A Magnetic Field Detector 1,000 Times More Efficient Than Those Before

Illustration for article titled A Magnetic Field Detector 1,000 Times More Efficient Than Those Before

Measuring magnetic fields with accuracy is important, whether it’s for geological exploration or medical imaging. Now, a team from MIT has developed a new laser-based magnetic field detector that’s 1,000 times more efficient than previous examples.

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One way to measure magnetic fields is to shine laser light through synthetic diamonds with nitrogen vacancies—points where a carbon atom is missing from the diamond lattice. When laser light passes though such a vacancy, photons bump an electron in the space into a higher energy state; the presence of a magnetic field can affect the spin of that electron when its energy state drops back down, causing a difference in the new resting energy level. Measuring the differences in the energy states allows scientist to measure the strength of a magnetic field.

The only problem is that a lot of such readings are required to accurately measure a magnetic field. Usually, lasers have been shone at the surface of a synthetic diamond, limiting the number of readings that can be acquired. Now, the MIT team has developed a diamond chip in which laser light can bounce around inside—like a ball on pool table—providing a path length of over a meter and, in turn, yielding far more readings than in the past. The result is a sensor that’s 1,000 times more efficient than those that have gone before it.

The researchers reckon they could be able to create a miniaturized version of the chip that could be used in battery-powered devices—making accurate magnetic field measurement truly mobile. [Phys.Org]

DISCUSSION

Greg the Mad

The article mentions battery-powered devices, but what uses could that have? Will this just mean that my smartphone magnetometer will jiggle less around when I look at it in the debug program? Or anything more?

Would I be able to, say, receive radio with it? Or could it improve my WiFi connection?

What uses, besides a compass/GPS, does a precise magnetometer have, even beyond consumer products?