Saturday, 14 June 2014

Even the ionised ghost of Niels Bohr was confused

(New Scientist magazine did not accept my explanation as to why fridge magnets will sometimes lose their power and fall off. I am re-posting the piece here so that future generations of scientists may learn from it.)

The creature attacked without warning, claiming its first victims in the dead of night.

The following day Professor Gregg Bart, of The Pershore Institute of Speculative Physics, entered the kitchen of the flat where he lived alone to find his fridge magnets, along with the pieces of paper they held in place, in disarray on the floor. The fallen magnets had lost their 'stick' and he replaced them with a new set. However, a few days later the same thing happened.

“It was around midnight. As I lay in bed I could hear them hitting the tiles,” he recalls.

Could it be poltergeist activity? Or perhaps it was yet another act of protest carried out by a pair of highly-intelligent laboratory mice, both harbouring strong anarchist tendencies, who had recently escaped from their quarters and moved into the wall-space.

As is the case with many of life's problems, the answer turned out to be what scientists like to call a” four chalkboard solution,” drawing on branches of physics so obscure and complex that even the ionised ghost of Niels Bohr does not fully understand the underlying mathematics.

It fell to Brad Romers – an Artisan Materials Physicist at the Pershore Institute to deliver the bad news to his colleague: Bart's fridge had turned magnetic vampire. From here-on the damned appliance would gradually leech the magnetism from any object that ventured within a few inches. If left unchecked, it would eventually destroy everything magnetic that its owner had ever loved and cherished.

Initially Bart suspected that his friend was playing a practical joke on him:

“I made some glib remark about buying more steaks,” he says.

His attitude changed after Romers attempted to revive the drained magnets in a Warrington-Goodwin field generator. After a week only one showed a faint charge. The remainder had experienced what is termed “magnetic death.”

“They had effectively been reduced to really lousy paperweights,” says Romer.

So what had caused the onset of magnetic vampirism in Bart's previously benign refrigerator?

Unfortunately there is no proper way to answer this question without making reference to the Hollander Lattice, carelessly named after the man who it discovered it - Professor Colin Holander. (The additional 'l' was added by accident. As a consequence of this error another Professor Colin Hollander, whose main field of study is the reproductive cycle of newts, is often given credit for Holander's work and has accepted awards on his behalf which he refuses to give back.)

The Hollander Lattice is a structured field that extends beyond a magnetic object. Where two magnetic objects bond their lattices interlock to create a Picker Exchange - a closed energy transference loop in which an alternating charge cycles between the two conjoined articles.

Magnetic vampirism occurs when the picker exchange desynchronises, leading to an inequality of transference and allowing one partner in the lattice to dominate the other.

An attempt to manipulate and control an uneven picker exchange was recently undertaken by bored viola students at the Belle Isle Conservatoire in Detroit. The end result was a "terrifying" instrument that “bellows discordant music at you” according to the movement of magnets sliding up and down a harmonic scale.

Worryingly magnetic vampirism has been shown to be on the rise. In 2013, Powell Fridge Magnets saw 60% of the company's value wiped off their share price amidst concerns that their sole product might become unviable in the future.

As for professor Barts' vampire fridge?

“It turns out that the Pershore Institute has a lot of equipment that needs to be demagnetised,” he says. “I have a small pile of it on my kitchen floor. It makes it hard to reach the milk.”

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