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A new physics discovery made by a University of Virginia-led team may lead to more efficient refrigerators, heat pumps and airport scanners, among many possible uses -perhaps within a decade.

The team of physicists and materials scientists have discovered a universal law governing the magnetic properties of metamagnets -- metal alloys that can undergo dramatic increases in magnetization when a small external magnetic field is applied, such as from a permanent magnet or an electromagnet.

The scientists have discovered that the magnetic effect of apparently all metamagnets is that it is non-linear. When these metamagnets are placed in an initial magnetic field and the field is doubled, they more than double in magnetic strength. This is significant because eventually scientists and engineers likely will harness this unique property for a variety of applications, including refrigeration.

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