Powerful Programmable Magnets Attracting Attention

programmable magnets

Magnets are found in a huge range of objects, from children’s toys to the International Space Station. But they have a few limitations in their normal state; namely, they have only two poles – a positive and a negative. What if magnets could be programmed to have more complex fields? Then a strong magnetic connection could be formed between only correlating fields, and when the two attracted objects are twisted slightly, the connection would be broken.

programmable magnets 2

Correlated Magnetics Research (CMR), a company in Alabama, is creating magnets with multiple field patterns, meaning that they have overcome the tendency of magnets to have only one positive and one negative pole. They achieve this by heating magnets to above their Curie temperature (the maximum temperature at which they can retain their magnetism) then instilling new magnetic field patterns. The magnets retain their new patterns, making it possible to use them in all sorts of applications, such as self-assembling toys or maglev trains.

The knowledge to achieve this has actually been around for quite some time, but CMR is taking it to a new level by applying new technology that allows rare earth magnets to be reprogrammed easily. One big benefit of their method is that having so many magnetic fields so close together destroys their range, meaning that the magnetic fields are quite strong, but only for a very short distance. This could allow magnets to be used in more products without worrying about harming credit cards or pacemakers.

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See more in New Materials or under Science. December, 2009.