Man-made Wormhole Opens Up in Barcelona Lab

September 17, 2015 | Sarah Tse

Artist's impression of a supermassive black hole.
Photo credit: European Southern Observatory (CC BY 4.0)

Scientists have constructed a wormhole that can seemingly transfer magnetic fields from one point to another.

Despite our fervent longings and cultural obsession, wormholes have remained strictly theoretical since Einstein’s Theory of Relativity suggested their possibility. A tunnel that connects two locations in space-time, allowing for instantaneous travel across dimensions—too sensational to be true, right?

Well, yes. But scientists have finally succeeded at creating a wormhole of a different sort. Rather than transporting intrepid space-travellers, this device acts on magnetic fields. It follows the principles of Einstein’s theory in that it hides the path traveled by a magnetic field, as if by deflecting it through another dimension.

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A trio of physicists at the Autonomous University of Barcelona based their design on a speculative “invisibility cloak” that could mask electromagnetic waves, first presented in 2007. The concept never came to fruition because of its projected cost and impracticality. They instead adapted the design to use materials that work for magnetic fields.

The apparatus consists of an inner sphere made of super-conductive yttrium barium copper oxide, nested within another sphere of highly permeable mu-metals which can shield electronic devices. This outer shell consists of 150 mu-metal pieces arranged such that they can cancel out the magnetic field.

To test the wormhole, the scientists passed a magnetized tube through the layered sphere, like a string through a bead. They turned on a magnetic field, and put the whole contraption in a liquid-nitrogen bath to keep the superconductor functional. (Learn why superconductors work best at extremely cold temperatures.)

A magnetized superconductor usually distorts the surrounding magnetic field lines, in the same way a trampoline sinks a bit under your feet. But thanks to the multiple shells, the magnetic field appears to cross unseen from one end of the tube to the other. In effect, it vanishes at the entrance to the sphere and materializes at the exit, as if the device temporary transported the magnetic field through another dimension.

In addition to opening up a world of theoretical modeling, this technique could revolutionize the use of magnetic resonance imaging in diagnostic medicine. MRI machines are basically colossal magnetized tubes which subject patients to stressful, claustrophobic conditions. If the device is reshaped, it can be manipulated to direct its magnetic field at any part of the body. The shielding effect can also let doctors use multiple MRI sensors to image different parts of the body at the same time, or perhaps even image patients’ bodies during surgery.

As for the wormholes that can transport large objects and people across space and time, we’ll have to settle for science fiction fabrications for now.

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