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Electric currents that merely flow.

One doesn't normally expect to find electric currents with no identifiable source.

Richard A. Webb, a physicist at the University of Maryland at College Park, and his colleagues have been studying magnetically induced currents in tiny gold rings at low temperatures. Strangely, even when the magnetism is turned off, they find a minuscule, inexplicable "persistent current," which is less than one-billionth of an ampere.

"It's real," Webb says. "The existence of this persistent current is no longer in question. The size of the signal, in my experiments and ones being conducted at other laboratories, is about 100 times larger than what was theoretically predicted."

Despite a lot of bickering among theoreticians to explain the puzzling current, "there's no consensus about its origin," he adds. "We're collecting more data to unravel this mystery."

More than mere trivia for physicists, these results may prove relevant to the microelectronics industry as computer processors continue to shrink, Webb believes. There may come a point, he says, when components are so small that aberrant electrical effects like these small currents will cause computer memories to leak information.
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Title Annotation:American Association for the Advancement of Science; physicist Richard A. Webb and his colleagues discover that a small current persists even when the power source is removed
Author:Travis, John
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Feb 24, 1996
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