Powerful magnetic shield will test the limits of physics

The Standard Model of physics, as good as it is, has gaps: it can't really explain dark matter, gravity or the imbalance between matter and antimatter. Thankfully, German researchers have a new tool that could plug some of those holes. They've developed a magnetic shield whose several layers of nickel-iron alloy are 10 times more effective than the previous best, creating a magnetic field so low and consistent that it actually beats the average ambient field in space. That will let scientists measure particles with such a high level of precision that they could detect previously unknown physics behavior, and set the groundwork for finding new particles. Think of it as a complement to accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider -- rather than smash particles together, it'll help find subtle deviations from the norm.

The shield could prove its worth relatively quickly. One upcoming experiment, for example, will test the distribution of charges in a xenon isotope. If the distribution doesn't match what the Standard Model predicts, that could be a clue to the existence of an unknown particle. There's no guarantee that the technology will up-end physics as we know it, but it could at least challenge some of our common assumptions.

[Image credit: Astrid Eckert/TUM]