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World’s First Anti-Magnet to Serve as 'Magnetic Shield'

Magnet illo - wikipedia

An ordinary horseshoe magnet attracts a heavy piece of iron. (Wikipedia)

X-men’s Magneto isn’t the only who can shield magnetic fields.

Spanish researchers have designed what they call the world's first "anti-magnet," a magnetic cloak that can act as a shield they envision helping the military and saving lives. For example, some types of mines in the ocean are set to detonate upon detection of magnetic fields from ships passing above them. Military ships could use an anti-magnet to stop their magnetic fields from tripping the mines.

“It was a big explosion in science [in 2008] -- the possibility of cloaking electromagnetic waves,” professor Alvar Sanchez from from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain and the lead author of the design told FoxNews.com. “So we came up with the idea of trying to make something similar with magnetic fields, and now we have come up with a device we hope can be constructed eventually that will have these properties of an anti-magnet.”

An anti-magnet could protect medical patients as readily as military ships, the researchers theorize. Potentially, those using pacemakers could interact more readily with medical equipment.

“For example, in magnetic resonance imaging [MRI], in principal, you can protect the pacemaker from the field, but often you would need to distort the magnetic field, so then the quality of the images is bad,” Sanchez told FoxNews.com. “We hope in the future our device can be put on the chest of the patient to prevent the magnetic field from entering, while at the same time not causing any distortion.”

While many benefits present themselves, some downsides have also surfaced. The researchers have acknowledged that criminals could potentially use the anti-magnet to confuse security scanners in places like airports. But the scientists think it could help develop more sophisticated security technology.

“It is conceivable that they could be used for reducing the magnetic signature of forbidden objects, with the consequent threat to security,” Sanchez said. “For these reasons, the research could be taken into account by security officials in order to design safer detection systems and protocols.”

The concept for the anti-magnet consists of two main parts. The first component is a superconductor, which serves to shield the magnetic field. That superconductor would need to be surrounded by magnetic layers, finely tuned and configured to combat distortion. Sanchez and his team envision a cylinder made of superconductive material, with a magnet placed inside. The magnet’s field would be unable to reach outside the cylinder.

The team’s design is purely theoretical at this point, but they're looking to change that.

“We're starting to work together with some experimentalists to come up with a real working prototype,” Sanchez told FoxNews.com. “In principal, the idea would work on the scale of meters and then the scale of millimeters or inches. You can have different scales.”

Their study will be published in the Institute of Physics and German Physical Society’s New Journal of Physics on Friday, Sept. 23.

The design team recently presented their research at a centennial conference of superconductivity in the Netherlands. This year marks 100 years of superconductivity.

“We benefit very much from the properties of superconductors,” Sanchez told FoxNews.com. “By merging our ideas on superconductivity and cloaking in general, plus all the work it took to develop, it just shows the importance of magnetism in our lives. We use magnetism for so many things. If you go home today and look around, you will probably find 50 items that rely on magnetism -- from the fridge, the phone, your computer.”

“Because of this, any device that presents a new property of magnetism will be so useful. Many of its applications I don’t think we can even imagine today.”