The Hunt for the Magnetic Monopole

If magnets don’t have to have two poles, it could lead to an entirely new class of devices

12 min read
The Hunt for the Magnetic Monopole
Illustration: Bryan Christie Design

One of the very first facts you learn about electromagnetism—long before you walk into your first physics class—is that every magnet has two poles. Cut a bar magnet in half and you wind up with two magnets, each of which has its own north and south poles. And that’s true for every single object in our experience that boasts a magnetic field—whether it’s the entire Earth or an iron atom. There are no solitary poles.

Strangely, though, there is no fundamental reason why that has to be the case. In fact, there are a few good reasons to suspect that there might be single-poled magnetic objects—magnetic monopoles—floating about in the universe. If these particles exist, they are probably quite rare, but that hasn’t stopped physicists from looking for them. Here’s why: If they exist, they could help answer long-standing questions about the nature of the universe, shedding light on the way fundamental forces of nature are tied together.

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