Magnets are one of those things that are fascinating when we’re kids, and promptly forgotten as soon as puberty hits. But magnets are one of the most interesting forces in the universe — and we’re nowhere close to understanding them.
So why are magnets so interesting?
It is believed that magnets were discovered 4,000 years ago in Ancient Greece. According to legend, a Cretan shepherd found the nails in his shoes and the metal tip of his herding staff stuck to a black rock. The rock, lodestone, was infused with magnetite.
Back in ancient times, people thought magnets had magical abilities. Cleopatra allegedly wore a magnet on her forehead to prevent aging. Ancient civilizations ranging from the Hebrews to the Chinese used magnets for healing. Ancient China also developed the first compass using lodestone.
In recent times, we’ve discovered that the earth itself acts as a magnet, and magnetic energy exists throughout the universe. Scientists recently confirmed that the eternally mysterious black hole is powered on magnetic energies.
Any third grader can attest to the powers of magnets just by playing with them. So could magnetic energy be an undiscovered solution to the global energy crisis?
Well, yes and no.
The Potential Of Magnetic Energy
Thanks to the first law of thermodynamics, magnets can’t create energy — but they can help control it. According to David Cohen-Tanugi, Vice President of the MIT Energy Club and a John S. Hennessy Fellow in MIT’s Materials Science and Engineering department, “Magnetism is a force, but it has no energy of its own. Magnetism is extremely useful for converting energy from one form to another. About 99% of the power generated from fossil fuels, nuclear and hydroelectric energy, and wind comes from systems that use magnetism in the conversion process.”
But one innovator believed that Earth’s electromagnetic fields could be used to create turn-of-last-century WiFi.
Tesla theorised that infinite energy could be created by tapping into electromagnetic fields, and these fields could be used to create the first WiFi system. He built Wardenclyffe Tower in 1901 to facilitate his theories, but the project was ultimately unsuccessful.
But as technology continues to grow at a rapid rate, it’s still possible that the potential of magnets and electromagnetic energy remains vastly untapped. Here are some of the unexpected ways magnets are being used, and how they could be applied in the future!
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
In 2015, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) was approved by the FDA in the treatment of major depressive disorder. TMS uses single, paired, and repetitive electromagnetic pulses to stimulate regions of the brain.
MagVita Therapy System, the leading TMS treatment, reported, “A double-blind, placebo controlled trial finds that 61% of patients respond to rTMS therapy with a significant reduction in HAM-D score (Hamilton Depression Rating Score) over the 4-6 week treatment time.”
The God Helmet was developed by neuroscientist Michael Persinger in the late ‘90s. While TMS uses far stronger magnetic forces, than Persinger’s God Helmet, delivers low-level and complex pulses instead. The helmet derived its name after recipients reported out-of-body experiences, seeing angels, or religious ecstasy.
However, there have been many instances where electromagnetic fields have caused hallucinations or mass religious experiences. Some scientists have theorized that the sightings of ghosts could be explained by these hallucinations, which would also explain why electromagnetic energy is found at the location of these reportedly “haunted” places.
How could this be useful? It could be used in conjunction with future virtual reality experiences to bring a new sense of interdimensionally to the virtual experience. "If you've done virtual reality," Persinger said to a Wired reporter in 1999, "then you know that once you put on the helmet, you always know you are inside the helmet. The idea is to create a form of entertainment that is more real."
Electromagnetic Propulsion And Space Travel
Could electromagnetic propulsion be used to launch a spacecraft? Multiple conceptual applications have been filed regarding this potential in the aerospace industry. One proposal theorizes that a spacecraft could use its own electromagnetic field to interact with the Earth’s magnetic field, using electromagnetic propulsion to launch.
Another theory suggests that electromagnetic propulsion could be engineered to thrust a spacecraft deeper and faster through space. Without the need to refuel, this could bolster efforts to go — as Star Trek once posited — where no man has gone before.
Although Tesla’s tower was seen as a failure of its time, he may have been right about using electromagnetic fields as a source of power.
What do you think about the future application of the mighty magnet? Sound off in the comments!