A team of scientists including two physicists at the University of Sussex has found a way to circumvent a 178-year old theory which means they can effectively cancel magnetic fields at a distance. They are the first to be able to do so in a way which has practical benefits.

The work is hoped to have a wide variety of applications. For example, patients with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's might in future receive a more accurate diagnosis. With the ability to cancel out 'noisy' external magnetic fields, doctors using magnetic field scanners will be able to see more accurately what is happening in the brain.

The study "Tailoring magnetic fields in inaccessible regions" is published in Physical Review Letters. It is an between Dr. Mark Bason and Jordi Prat-Camps at the University of Sussex, and Rosa Mach-Batlle and Nuria Del-Valle from the Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona and other institutions.

"Earnshaw's Theorem" from 1842 limits the ability to shape magnetic fields. The team were able to calculate an innovative way to circumvent this theory in order to effectively cancel other magnetic fields which can confuse readings in experiments.

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