02/29/2012

Duke University

Exotic material boosts electromagnetism safely

Using exotic man-made materials, scientists from Duke University and Boston College believe they can greatly enhance the forces of electromagnetism (EM), one of the four fundamental forces of nature, without harming living beings or damaging electrical equipment.

This theoretical finding could have broad implications for such applications as magnetic levitation trains, which ride inches above the tracks without touching and are propelled by electro-magnets.

As the term indicates, EM is made up of two types of fields – electric and magnetic. Alternating current sources generate both electric and magnetic fields, and increasing one of them generally leads to the increase in the other. But electrical fields can cause problems if they get too high.

"For any EM applications dealing with things on the human scale, high-intensity EM fields needed for the generation of strong forces interfere with other devices and may be harmful to biological tissues, including humans," said Yaroslav Urzhumov, an assistant research professor in electrical and computer engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering.

"The severity of this problem is substantially reduced if the fields are predominantly magnetic, since virtually all biological substances and the majority of conventional materials are transparent to magnetic fields," Urzhumov said. "While we can't suppress the electric field completely, a magnetically-active metamaterial could theoretically reduce the amount of current needed to generate a high enough magnetic field, thus reducing parasitic electric fields in the environment and making high-power EM systems safer."

The results of Urzhumov's analysis were published online in the journal Physical Review B, and the team's research was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

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