Humans have a sixth sense for Earth's magnetic field

A new study suggests that humans can subconsciously sense Earth's magnetic field. While this capability, called magnetoreception, is well known in birds and fish, there is now evidence that our brains are also sensitive to magnetic fields. The researchers from Caltech and the University of Tokyo measured the brainwaves of 26 participants who were exposed to magnetic fields that could be manipulated. Interestingly, the brainwaves were not affected by upward-pointing fields. From Science News:

Participants in this study, who all hailed from the Northern Hemisphere, should perceive downward-pointing magnetic fields as natural, whereas upward fields would constitute an anomaly, the researchers argue. Magnetoreceptive animals are known to shut off their internal compasses when encountering weird fields, such as those caused by lightning, which might lead the animals astray. Northern-born humans may similarly take their magnetic sense “offline” when faced with strange, upward-pointing fields...

Even accounting for which magnetic changes the brain picks up, researchers still don’t know what our minds might use that information for, (Caltech neurobiologist and geophysicist Joseph) Kirschvink says. Another lingering mystery is how, exactly, our brains detect Earth’s magnetic field. According to the researchers, the brain wave patterns uncovered in this study may be explained by sensory cells containing a magnetic mineral called magnetite, which has been found in magnetoreceptive trout as well as in the human brain.

"Transduction of the Geomagnetic Field as Evidenced from Alpha-band Activity in the Human Brain" (eNeuro)

"Evidence for a Human Geomagnetic Sense" (Caltech) Read the rest

Magnets and Marbles

This isn't your usual kinetic pachinko balls-in-a-gravity-maze toy, but a mindbending demonstration of magnets. It starts getting really crazy at about 2m in but one should enjoy the subtle pleasures too. Read the rest

Fabian Oefner's ferrofluidic cover for Guster's new album

Watch artist Fabian Oefner manipulating ferrofluid (magnetized liquid) and watercolors into a stunning psychedelic pattern that appears on the cover of alt.pop trio Guster's forthcoming album Evermotion. Read the rest

Display of choreographed iron filings

Iron filings move to the music above an array of computer-controlled magnets in TechnoFrolics' "Choreographed Iron Dust" display shown at last weekend's World Maker Faire in NYC. Read the rest

Beautiful video combines art and magnetism

Filmmaker Kim Pimmel combined ferrofluids, a magnet, soap bubbles, and dye to create this mesmerizing short video. Science + art = awesomesauce.

Video Link

Thanks, Brian Thomas!

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Saturday Morning Science Experiment: Up With Magnets!

Ferrofluids are basically just iron nanoparticles suspended in a liquid. In the presence of magnets, they do some pretty cool things. For instance, ferrofluids flow to place where the magnetic flux--the strength of the magnetism--is strongest. So if you magnetize the screw from a meat grinder so the magnetic flux is denser at the top than it is at the bottom, the ferrofluid will climb the screw like staircase.

Thumbnail image courtesy Gregory Maxwell, via CC

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