Making Objects Invisible to Magnetic Fields

After a bit of math wizardry, making the device appear was deceptively simple

2 min read
Making Objects Invisible to Magnetic Fields


Researchers have been trying for years to figure out how to pull a fast one: move an object through an electromagnetic field without disturbing the magnetic field lines. But all their efforts have fallen short.

Today, a team of engineers and physicists at the Slovak Academy of Sciences and Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona reported in Science that they have cracked the code. They say they have created a magnetic cloak that makes objects inside of it invisible to static dc magnetic fields such as the ones in magnetic resonance imaging machines in hospitals and security checkpoints at building entrances.

How did they make the breakthrough when countless other teams’ experimental demonstrations were studies in compromise—with some reflection and shadowing, effectiveness limited to narrow frequency bands, and only partial elimination of field scattering effects? The long and the short of it is that they were diligent math students (Which answers the question of whether math is still relevant). The Spanish and Slovakian researchers first figured out theoretically, “directly from Maxwell equations, that a specially designed cylindrical superconductor-ferromagnetic bilayer” could act as a cloak against uniform static magnetic fields. With their math homework (and perhaps a gold star) in hand, they set about producing just such a cylinder.

They knew what to do to generate just the right amount of repulsion from the inner superconducting layer, and attraction to the outer ferromagnetic one. As it turns out, making the device required little more than a few turns of a commercially available high-temperature superconductor tape wrapped in a few turns of a thick iron-nickel-chromium commercial alloy sheet.

When placed in a magnetic field with a field strength of 40 milliteslas (between two racetrack magnets, as shown in the photo above and in this video), the cylinder left the field lines practically undisturbed. The researchers attributed the slight deviations from their calculations to the possibility that the cylinder’s length-to-diameter ratio was too small and to the fact that they used off-the-shelf materials for the superconducting and ferromagnetic layers. 

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This CAD Program Can Design New Organisms

Genetic engineers have a powerful new tool to write and edit DNA code

11 min read
A photo showing machinery in a lab

Foundries such as the Edinburgh Genome Foundry assemble fragments of synthetic DNA and send them to labs for testing in cells.

Edinburgh Genome Foundry, University of Edinburgh

In the next decade, medical science may finally advance cures for some of the most complex diseases that plague humanity. Many diseases are caused by mutations in the human genome, which can either be inherited from our parents (such as in cystic fibrosis), or acquired during life, such as most types of cancer. For some of these conditions, medical researchers have identified the exact mutations that lead to disease; but in many more, they're still seeking answers. And without understanding the cause of a problem, it's pretty tough to find a cure.

We believe that a key enabling technology in this quest is a computer-aided design (CAD) program for genome editing, which our organization is launching this week at the Genome Project-write (GP-write) conference.

With this CAD program, medical researchers will be able to quickly design hundreds of different genomes with any combination of mutations and send the genetic code to a company that manufactures strings of DNA. Those fragments of synthesized DNA can then be sent to a foundry for assembly, and finally to a lab where the designed genomes can be tested in cells. Based on how the cells grow, researchers can use the CAD program to iterate with a new batch of redesigned genomes, sharing data for collaborative efforts. Enabling fast redesign of thousands of variants can only be achieved through automation; at that scale, researchers just might identify the combinations of mutations that are causing genetic diseases. This is the first critical R&D step toward finding cures.

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