Tag Archive: Magnetic Field


A NASA-sponsored researcher at the University of Iowa has developed a way for spacecraft to hunt down hidden magnetic portals in the vicinity of Earth. These portals link the magnetic field of our planet to that of the sun.

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pigeons

How pigeons are able to detect magnetic fields to navigate their way home remains a mystery, say researchers.

Biologist Dr Jeremy Shaw, from the University of Western Australia, and colleagues, report their findings today in the journal Nature.

“At this stage it’s still that needle-in-a-haystack problem,” says Shaw.

Behavioural studies show that pigeons are able to detect magnetic fields. Finding the cells that are responsible for this magnetic sense has eluded scientists. But in 2003, German-led researchers reported iron-rich magnetoreceptors in six locations of the pigeon’s beak. The team reported finding nerve cells rich in magnetite and haematite, which are highly magnetic.

Shaw and colleagues carried out detailed histological examinations in 270 pigeons but could not confirm these findings. “We’ve done a very robust detailed study of the entire beak region and found nothing of the sort,” says Shaw. Instead, the researchers found different forms of iron that are only weakly magnetic. They also found the iron was present in macrophages, not nerve cells. Both findings mean the structures identified by the German research are “highly unlikely” to be magnetoreceptors, says Shaw.

“We’re not saying there isn’t a magnetoreceptor there somewhere, but we’re saying the cells that had been previously described as magnetoreceptors are not them.” Shaw emphasises the animals sacrificed in the study were killed in a humane way. He says the research is important because of what it can reveal about the “sixth sense” of magnetic field detection.

“It’s one of those fundamental questions in biology that has persisted for many many years now,” says Shaw.

He says the research could help understand problems such as the stranding of whales, which also detect magnetic fields.

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Trust Us: Quantum Levitation

A representative from the Superconductivity Group at Tel Aviv University conducts a demo of quantum superconductors locked in a magnetic field for the ASTC.

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