Pretty magnetic monopoles

Pick of the pics

A pretty magnetic pattern is pretty surprising too

Against the rules, triplets of magnetic north poles (bright points) and south poles (dark points) chum together with amazing regularity on small islands etched in a honeycomb pattern on an iron surface, using an electron beam. Hartmut Zabel at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum calls it a new magnetic order. The polarities are revealed by a magnetic force microscope, and the 20-micrometre scale line tells us that the width of the picture is about the average thickness of a human hair. Credit: RUB

Who’d have thought it? In kindergarten science you learn that like magnetic poles repel each other. Yet here we see energetically unfavourable triplets of poles occurring not just once or twice by mistake but all across a specially prepared iron surface, when subjected to a magnetic field.

The so-called “magnetic monopoles” created in this pattern are not to be confused with hypothetical fundamental particles of that name. And be wary of attempts to explain the phenomenon to you by reference to “spin ice”, and an analogy with water ice. They may be helpful for experts but can baffle non-physicists. All you really need to know is that the exposed north or south poles belong to atoms that can face one way or the other on the lattice surface.

Watch out for novel information-storage devices exploiting this “new magnetic order”. Prof. Zabel points out that “each node point has eight possible dipole constellations – far more than with conventional storage techniques based on two states”. The islands in the experiments were 3 micrometres long, but they might be made ten times smaller.


Alexandra Schumann, Björn Sothmann, Philipp Szary and Hartmut Zabel, “Charge ordering of magnetic dipoles in artificial honeycomb lattices,” Applied Physics Letters, Vol. 97, 022509 (2010). doi:10.1063/1.3463482

RUB press release:

For a relevant report last year from Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie see

4 Responses to Pretty magnetic monopoles

  1. Tom Bakewell says:

    In the “Worse than Ivan the Terrible” post the word ‘bomber’ is used as a term for an ICBM armed submarine. I believe the correct slang word is boomer. My reference is Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October”

    I love all of the different topics you put up on this site

    Tom Bakewell

  2. Leo Vuyk says:

    Dear Nigel,

    I am stunned by the peculiar nano structure of the triangular monopole geometry in the image.
    If I translate the 2D image into a 3D picture, then we may assume some sort of a tetrahedron structure just as I did suggest for the Higgs vacuum structure for so called “atoms of spacetime”, see:

    Construction principles for chiral “atoms of spacetime” based on geometrical 3-D models.

    Click to access 1102.0052v1.pdf

    and I also found in:
    Quantum Gravity and Electro Magnetic forces in FFF-theory.
    See; Figure 12, Alternative magnetic field by “curled Photonic monopole information around an
    electric wire under current.

    Click to access 1103.0024v2.pdf

    I hope you like my suggestions.
    Leo Vuyk.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: