Magnets, as most people know, are always dipoles: each magnet has both a north and a south pole. But a team of German scientists has generated a previously only theoretical magnetic feature: a magnetic monopole.
Up to now, magnetic monopoles have been the stuff of speculation. Physicist Paul Dirac conjectured that such monopoles might exist at the ends of magnetic strings. But these monopoles had never actually been observed in real materials.
Until now. The German research team looked for these monopoles in the material dysprosium titanate. They chose this stuff for its internal structure; it crystallizes into a sort of spaghetti, a mix of strings of magnetic material, illustrated in the image above. The team observed this structure by measuring how neutrons scatter through the material. At very low temperatures, and under an external magnetic field, the poles on these magnetic strings sort of fall apart, leaving magnetic monopoles at the ends of these strings.
It sounds like a pretty complex experiment with only a very specific outcome. But the implications are giant. Up to this point, magnetic monopoles were entirely theoretical. This experiment not only proves that the monopoles exist, but it proves that they consistently exist in the same situations and that they interact in predictable ways. It's always amazing to realize that as much as physicists know, they still manage to see new things all the time.
Magnetic Monopoles Detected In A Real Magnet For The First Time [via ScienceDaily]