Brainy Quote of the Day

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Magnetic Monopoles...

Citation: Phys. Today 69, 10, 40 (2016);
Topics: Electromagnetism, James Clerk Maxwell, Materials Science

The discovery of the mysterious hypothetical particles would provide a tantalizing glimpse of new laws of nature beyond the standard model.

Electricity and magnetism appear everywhere in the modern world and form the basis of most of our technology. Therefore, it would be natural to assume that they are already fully understood and no longer pose unanswered fundamental physics questions. Indeed, for most practical purposes they are perfectly well described by classical electrodynamics, as formulated by James Clerk Maxwell in 1864. At a deeper level, a consistent quantum mechanical account is given by quantum electrodynamics, part of the standard model of particle physics. The theory works so well that it predicts the magnetic dipole moment of the electron accurately to 10 significant figures. Nevertheless, there is still an elementary aspect of electromagnetism that we do not understand: the question of magnetic monopoles.1

That magnets always have two poles—north and south—seems like an obvious empirical fact. Yet we do not know any theoretical reason why magnetic monopoles, magnets with a single north or south pole, could not exist. Are we still missing some crucial fundamental aspect of the theory? Or do magnetic monopoles exist and we simply have not managed to find them yet?

Nothing in classical electrodynamics prohibits magnetic monopoles; in fact, they would make the theory more symmetric. As Maxwell noted, the laws governing electricity and magnetism are identical. That can be seen in the Maxwell equations of electrodynamics, which in vacuum have a duality symmetry—the electric terms can be replaced with magnetic terms, and vice versa, in such a way that the equations are left unchanged. That symmetry is broken only in the presence of electric charges and currents, which have no magnetic counterparts. If magnetic monopoles existed, they would carry the magnetic equivalent of an electric charge, and they would restore the duality symmetry (see figure 1). On aesthetic grounds, one would therefore expect their existence.

Physics Today: The search for magnetic monopoles, Arttu Rajantie

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