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Quantum Levitation
October 17, 2011 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Sapphire + Superconductor + Gold + Saran Wrap + Liquid Nitrogen + Magnets = Quantum Levitation.

More information, including the science behind the magic.

More fun.
posted by overeducated_alligator (73 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
What? No rotten banana peels? No Mr. Fusion?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:14 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


[tig]
posted by sciurus at 1:23 PM on October 17, 2011


Shoot, I was just preparing to post something about this after seeing this video on reddit. Really cool stuff.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:26 PM on October 17, 2011


How do they work?
posted by slater at 1:26 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Damn, I was all prepared to sarcastically favorite this for being cranky nonsense. You win again, internets.
posted by [citation needed] at 1:27 PM on October 17, 2011


The folks who figure out room-temperature super-conductors are going to make a killing. Well, assuming it can be done.
posted by maxwelton at 1:28 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


By divine intervention, I heard
posted by cotterpin at 1:28 PM on October 17, 2011


brb gonna raid my wife's jewelry box.
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:28 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


ok, wtf. Is this a hoax or not?
posted by rebent at 1:30 PM on October 17, 2011


So is this to make up for the no jet packs?
posted by From Bklyn at 1:32 PM on October 17, 2011


I skipped ahead, and was wondering why he chose to use a hard-frozen pancake for his demonstration.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:33 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So... It's a superconducting disc with regular micro- or nanoscale defects that allow "flux tubes" to be created that in turn set up "pinning"...?

I should have known it would be Kenny Powers' tubes that would hold the answer to ICP's Great Question...
posted by the painkiller at 1:36 PM on October 17, 2011


The explanations in the video are like something from Dr. Who.
posted by carter at 1:38 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


If science fiction has taught me anything, this will undoubtedly result in a beautiful research assistant being menaced by something otherworldly with claws.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:45 PM on October 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


A little more information:

Patent: HIGH TEMPERATURE SUPERCONDUCTIVE FILMS AND METHODS OF MAKING THEM
Paper: Homogenous Crack-Free Large Size YBCO/YSZ/Sapphire Films for Application (PDF)
posted by toftflin at 1:47 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So... will we see mostly frictionless cargo transfer with LiNi cooled railway cars?

Probably not but that would be so cool to see in the midwest.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:48 PM on October 17, 2011


Homogenous Crack-Free Large Size YBCO/YSZ/Sapphire Films for Application

That reads like a spam message subject...
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:49 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


BUILD ME MY FLOATING RAILWAY, WIZARD MAN.
posted by The Whelk at 1:49 PM on October 17, 2011 [13 favorites]


I understand the flux pinning part (kind of) -- if you have lines of flux in the middle of the superconductor, it's going to have force in all directions equally, locking it in place, but wouldn't that also cause it to not want to move in any direction? Why can it easily move laterally, but not vertically?
posted by empath at 1:49 PM on October 17, 2011


I was like 'Whoa, science!' and then as soon as I got to 'quantrum flux tubes are pinned in defects' I was like 'Wait did Something Awful make this to make fun of English majors?'
posted by shakespeherian at 1:50 PM on October 17, 2011


There's a Metafilter tagline joke in here somewhere...
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:56 PM on October 17, 2011


So... It's a superconducting disc with regular micro- or nanoscale defects that allow "flux tubes" to be created that in turn set up "pinning"...?

I think that's correct. Every other demonstration of the Meissner effect that I've seen doesn't lock it into place laterally like that. Usually the superconductor or magnet will spin wildly or drift around perpendicular to the flux lines of the magnet. It won't lock into place, especially not at an angle like he sets it a few times.

The track demos aren't new, but maybe the suspension under the track is.

Also, I wonder how this behaves with regards to "memory"? When you set up the levitating magnet experiment the superconductor somehow "remembers" the position and you have to reset the supeconductor by warming it to clear that positional memory before re-cooling and starting again.

Weird, freaky stuff.
posted by loquacious at 1:56 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can has hover-board now?
posted by matt_od at 2:02 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I Want To Ride A Nitrogen Cooled Superconductor Covered Sapphire Disk Around A Magnetic Ring With Dry Ice Coming Off It.
posted by memebake at 2:03 PM on October 17, 2011


I love that this was funded in part by the Israeli Ministry of Infrastructure. Get on it, guys. The infrastructure needs this technology yesterday.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:04 PM on October 17, 2011


Let's say this material was free...I'm curious: would the energy cost of keeping a monorail chilled with liquid nitrogen be greater or less than the cost of using regular locomotives full of diesel for moving stuff around?
posted by maxwelton at 2:05 PM on October 17, 2011


Wait ... I just had an idea of how to turn the Large Hadron Collider into a Theme Park!
posted by memebake at 2:05 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh, and I would have liked to see how much weight the discs were capable of supporting while staying quantum-locked or what have you.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:05 PM on October 17, 2011


This is massively cool. Does this have the capability to handle significant loads, or is it restricted to things as light as that sapphire disk?
posted by Hactar at 2:05 PM on October 17, 2011


I Want To Ride A Nitrogen Cooled Superconductor Covered Sapphire Disk Around A Magnetic Ring With Dry Ice Coming Off It (With You)
posted by The Whelk at 2:06 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


DOES IT WORK WITHOUT THE MUSIC?!?
posted by chavenet at 2:07 PM on October 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


that was the X factor missing in other experiments, turns out that exact sequence of vibrations allows the stability to occur.
posted by The Whelk at 2:10 PM on October 17, 2011


That's amazing. I really want the gear-powered magnetic racecar set from the second video.

It does make me wonder if you could use this stuff to make a rail gun.

tiny floating ravioli
posted by codacorolla at 2:12 PM on October 17, 2011


"OK, Blaine. You asked for it. Here comes the cruncher. 'Why did the dead baby cross the road?'"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:16 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why can it easily move laterally, but not vertically?


I'm not sure either, but I think it finally explains why people who are "out of phase with our dimension" can walk through walls with abandon but don't fall through the floor.
posted by CynicalKnight at 2:17 PM on October 17, 2011 [10 favorites]


phtpt. Give me enough gold and sapphires, and I can make anything fly.

j/k

this is a nice step up from the levitating superconductor demos that you needed an jeweler's loupe to see what was floating.
posted by nomisxid at 2:19 PM on October 17, 2011


I don't understand this magic at all, but I have a huge smile on my face from watching this.

I kept thinking, "how many pairs of snow pants would I have to wear if I was sitting on that thing, riding around, magic-carpet style."

Neat-o!
posted by elmer benson at 2:21 PM on October 17, 2011


maxwelton, liquid nitrogen is cheaper than milk. Though that doesn't answer your question, since you need to know the rate at which it needs to be supplied. No idea on that. Check out the Shanghai maglev train for an idea of the economics. Apparently it costs $18 million per km to construct, which actually sounds not too shabby.

Handywavy speculation time for empath's question. My guess as for the lateral/vertical movement issue is that the locked flux lines are trying to "match" the lines coming from the permanent magnet (that is, the superconductor will feel a force pulling it to a position where the strength and orientation of the flux lines coming from the outside match the trapped lines on the inside). To first approximation, the permanent magnet has the same field strength at a set height regardless of horizontal position. So you can easily slide it side to side but not up and down.

Also, my guess is that the amount that can be lifted is set not by the superconductor but by the permanent magnet (though all superconductors break down at a high enough external field strength, so there is an upper limit). I'd imagine the force to move the superconductor vertically would be on the order of the force required to move two permanent magnets (of the same make as the single one that's shown. The Meissner effect normally just creates a mirror-magnet in the superconductor, if there's not trapped flux) a similar distance apart. Notice that he can easily place the superconductor in it's original position. So for a maglev train, a big expense would be for powerful magnets on the rail; sadly, there still is no such thing as a free lunch.

I've played with small superconductors and seen the levitation effect, but the lack of spinning here is actually really cool. Go Team Physics.
posted by physicsmatt at 2:26 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, when they say "frictionless" they really mean, "No more friction than is acting on any 757 that Federal Express is currently using." Right?

Every time I see something like this I keep remembering all of the amazing but absolutely incorrect predictions that were made about the amazing things lasers were going to be used for (mostly the crap that Thiel is lamenting the nonexistence of here) and how pretty much none of it involved my ability to transmit and store huge amounts of data, or surgery on people's eyes or any of the other amazing things we actually use lasers for today.

So pardon my jaded cynicism, but I'm pretty much willing to bet everything that this technology is not going to be used to haul bulk cargo any time soon.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:36 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


powerful magnets on the rail

Which would also be superconducting looped wires with applied current right?
posted by dibblda at 2:37 PM on October 17, 2011


The folks who figure out room-temperature super-conductors are going to make a killing.

We could just redefine room temperature....
posted by miyabo at 2:40 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Sapphire + Superconductor + Gold + Saran Wrap + Liquid Nitrogen + Magnets

= OBTANIUM.
posted by Artw at 2:56 PM on October 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


If science fiction has taught me anything, this will undoubtedly result in a beautiful research assistant being menaced by something otherworldly with claws.

Nah, just that they will have to mine that shit out of floating mountains on a planet of blue people.
posted by Artw at 2:59 PM on October 17, 2011


maxwelton, liquid nitrogen is cheaper than milk.

I wasn't thinking so much in terms of dollars, but in how much diesel (or equivalent) it would take to produce the liquid nitrogen used to move freight versus that used directly in a locomotive to move same.
posted by maxwelton at 3:02 PM on October 17, 2011


dibblda, er... yes.

Kid Charlemagne, I'd certainly agree that futurists have a real problem concerning actually applying sound economics to their pie-in-the-sky ideas.

However in this particular case, I would guess that the drag on a maglev train could be made significantly less than on a plane. A plane has to interact strongly with the air; it is what is keeping it up, after all. There's a fight between lift and drag, and the situation is not completely analogous to that of a train (which presumably wants rather less lift). Though that argument doesn't tell you the train will necessarily win either; just that you have to work it out in some detail (and no, I'm not going to attempt fluid flow calculations. Quantum mechanics I can explain. Air movement? that's a nightmare). Plus, the train can be powered by a lower-thrust engine (jet or otherwise). A plane needs to maintain a certain speed or fall out of the air. A train doesn't (or, can take it's sweet time getting up to maximum).

Also, even if the drag was identical there COULD be advantages with regards to faster/more convenient start-stop times and larger cargo capacity. Or, the infrastructure requirements, land easements, electric bills for the magnets, etc could just make this completely impractical. But yeah, not every new toy will be used in the way we think.
posted by physicsmatt at 3:03 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't see Tenser's name on the patent application.
posted by adamdschneider at 3:09 PM on October 17, 2011 [10 favorites]


The trouble with having anything walloping along at 250mph while depending on superconductors to levitate is that a loss of coolant or power turns you into a very large bomb dropped from not very high. Aircraft are designed to fly: even if you turn everything off they carry on flying, often for long enough to be useful. Trains do that coasting to a halt thing. Maglev TGV? Newton never gives up; Maxwell likes to take a break from time to time.

That said, way to go on the flying sapphire saucers! Moar pls.
posted by Devonian at 3:23 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


"an empty really is something mysterious and maybe even incomprehensible. I’ve handled quite a few of them, but I’m still surprised every time I see one. They’re just two copper disks the size of a saucer — about a quarter inch thick, with a space of a foot and a half between. There’s nothing else. I mean absolutely nothing, just empty space. You can stick your hand in them, or even your head, if you’re so knocked out by the whole thing -- just emptiness and more emptiness, thin air. And for all that, of course, there is some force between them, as I understand it, because you can’t press them together, and no one’s been able to pull them apart, either." — description of alien artifacts from Roadside Picnic, the book Tarkovski's Stalker was based on
posted by Tom-B at 3:29 PM on October 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


Nah, just that they will have to mine that shit out of floating mountains on a planet of blue people.

Hey! Careful!

That wasn't a science fiction movie. That was a cowboys and indians exploitation porno.
posted by loquacious at 3:34 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


What if they reversed the polarity in the quantum flux tubes? Would that save the Enterprise?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:52 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


What if they reversed the polarity in the quantum flux tubes? Would that save the Enterprise?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:52 PM on October 17 [+] [!]


I'm a magician, not an engineer!
posted by Sebmojo at 4:29 PM on October 17, 2011


Imagine something like this, only without wheels, and a plume of nitrogen fog streaming from the stack, the boiler being replaced by a giant cryogenic gas cylinder - hovering six inches above the rails. If I can have that, you can keep the jetpacks.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:51 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Late to this party, so let's seem, some things to point out:

With type II superconductors, like the YBCO thin film here, flux does penetrate the material, provided that you're above a certain minimum field value. In practice that field value is very small.

But field that penetrates is confined to small bundles, called vortices. Imagine the water draining out of a sink, but the twirling spiral is current and the empty air is just the same material, but in a normal state rather than a superconducting state. Those vortices group together form a vortex lattice, quite a beautiful thing really. They can also move around, which actually generates loss in the superconductor.

There's a lot work being put into pinning those vortices in place so they can't move and dissipate energy. We should be able to do about 5 times better than we can now, unless the theory is wrong of course. If we could do that, then we could have much more powerful magnetic fields and make superconductors more useful for power transmission.

Regarding the way the disc is held in place, even when upside down, this has been observed for along time. Remember there's a vortex lattice in the material and the magnet is putting out an imhomogenous field, close will be stronger, farther away will be weaker. So pushing the wafer closer would mean driving more vortices inside, which takes energy. Pulling the wafer away would mean popping one of the vortices out of the lattice, which also takes energy. So you have a stable equilibrium. The strength of the force needed probably scales with the pinning strength.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:06 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


vortex lattice

I am now totally sorted for handwaving bollocks come the next time I write an SF story, oh yes. :-)
posted by Artw at 5:08 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


The bit at the end where it "levitates" on the UNDERside of the track makes me think you could build a monorail that has a pipe of liquid nitrogen running through it. I wonder if you could build it out of a bunch of overlapping sheaths, like a telescope, and get a material that expands at juuuust the right rate with respect to temperature, such that the N2 leaks out wherever it's a little too warm.

Oh, I guess monorails still work when the train's on top. Whatever.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:37 PM on October 17, 2011


I bet you could make one hell of a roller-coaster...
posted by Artw at 5:40 PM on October 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


or just have a box of dry ice in the train and get an underpaid engineer (in the classical sense) to shovel it into a boiler when needed

(it kind of looks like it's boiling when it gets all fwooshy)
posted by LogicalDash at 5:41 PM on October 17, 2011


I visited the MESci in Tokyo (which is a completely awesome science museum) in 2004 where they did the upside-down track demonstration with a tiny toy train with an embedded superconductor. I was blown away. However, I don't think this property is a new discovery.
posted by pashdown at 5:53 PM on October 17, 2011


,blockquote>I love that this was funded in part by the Israeli Ministry of Infrastructure. Get on it, guys. The infrastructure needs this technology yesterday. Maglev trains. Although Israel is pretty small to need them.
posted by delmoi at 8:44 PM on October 17, 2011


Flying Jaffa cakes!
posted by blue_beetle at 8:49 PM on October 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Room temperature diamagnetic levitation (sorry for the crappy background image on that page).

I've tried playing around with diamagnetic levitation (I've melted down bismuth "lead" buckshot, and bought bismuth from eBay) and it's really cool, but kinda limited. Might be more dramatic with stronger magnets, but I'm kind of scared of them.

I have an "almost" (it only looks that way) levitation setup at my bench at lab for my most used needle-nosed tweezers that causes a lot of double takes when they see me "dock" the tweezers, it sways back and forth a bit, and then it looks like it stands/floats in mid-air.

There's a wooden lip on the shelf's foot, there's a hidden biggish neodymium magnet placed a couple of cm above the height of the tweezers creating an effect that kinda looks like this. A Video version - hmm, I wonder if that was CGI or if it was a super strong diamagnetic setup...? Spiner seemed to have to grab it very quickly, possibly suggesting that the magnets were *really* strong and that a slower grab would displace the chip vertically enough that it's stick to one top or bottom magnets (and be a serious pain in the arse to get it unstuck.
posted by porpoise at 9:08 PM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, because the levitating discs are flying-saucer shaped and I'm an impressionable idiot:

1) Presumably, the strength of the effect scales with the strength of the magnetic field and the ability of the material to confine that field (/those flux lines) to the vorticies. Given a weak magnetic field (picking an example completely at random: Earth's field), might it in principle be possible to come up with a flux-confining material strong enough to keep it stationary relative to the Earth? I assume we don't know of such a material, but if we did happen to find this Unobtanium, would you expect the effect to still apply?

2) The levitation effect seems to rely on the reluctance of the material to allow vortices to be added to or removed from the lattice; it wants to stay at a constant flux density. So:
2a) By changing the field strength and direction (electromagnets, presumably), should we be able to fly these things around complex paths?
2b) Alternatively, by changing the properties of the material or encouraging changes to the vortex lattice (to make "space" for more vortices or to encourage it to eject some), could we fly the thing around inside a stable electromagnetic field? Like, to pick an example at random again, the Earth's?

To sum up: can we build a saucer that flies silently, accelerates well in any direction and wreaks electromagnetic havoc as it travels? Cattle mutilation and probing of yokels presumably being after-market options.
posted by metaBugs at 5:32 AM on October 18, 2011


I love that this was funded in part by the Israeli Ministry of Infrastructure.

'Maglev' does sound like a Hebrew word.

אני אוהב את המגלב
posted by benito.strauss at 6:35 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the barber loves you too.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:43 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


might it in principle be possible to come up with a flux-confining material strong enough to keep it stationary relative to the Earth?

I don't think you can get any more superconducting than a superconductor.
posted by empath at 8:09 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think you can get any more superconducting than a superconductor.


ultramegaplus conductor (with 30% more free).
posted by defcom1 at 12:28 PM on October 18, 2011


DOUBLE LEVITATION, PEOPLE!!!!1!

Double levitation is the DVDA of Quantum Physics.
posted by LMGM at 2:14 PM on October 18, 2011


So, because the levitating discs are flying-saucer shaped and I'm an impressionable idiot:

A few points:

to come up with a flux-confining material strong enough to keep it stationary relative to the Earth

The earth's field is parallel to the earth's surface at most reasonable latitudes. And it doesn't fall off in strength over very short distances, more like distances comparable to the radius of the earth.

2a) By changing the field strength and direction (electromagnets, presumably), should we be able to fly these things around complex paths?

Ignoring even the magnet part of it your gizmos would have to be separate from the craft, like attached to the Earth's surface. Purely internal forces cannot create net external forces eg yanking on your boot straps does not propel your whole body around.

To sum up:
No
posted by Chekhovian at 5:18 PM on October 18, 2011


empath - I don't think you can get any more superconducting than a superconductor.
Even forgiving your lack of ambition (I kid because I love), from what little I understand of the article and the comments above, the effect is being greatly enhanced by modifications to the structure of the superconductor. I was wondering whether it's likely that we'll be able to improve upon those modifications to create an even stronger effect.

Chekhovian - Ignoring even the magnet part of it your gizmos would have to be separate from the craft, like attached to the Earth's surface. Purely internal forces cannot create net external forces

I wasn't clear, but I wasn't intending to ask for a reactionless drive. In that case, I was thinking of having electromagnets distributed around an environment (factory floor, warehouse, evil underground lair), and having the disks stuck to the bottom of e.g. packing crates.

We know that, within weight limits that would probably disappoint me, we could stick on of those packing crates above a magnet and it would stay there, stationary relative to the magnetic field. If we move the magnet, the crate will follow: again, it's staying stationary relative to the field. My question was intended to be: with an array of stationary electromagnets and some hard thinking, can we modulate their output to create a magnetic field that moves smoothly across the room, which would therefore give us a flying packing crate? Building on this, if the disk maintains a constant height because it likes being at a constant field strength, can we also make the disk fly up and down by changing the strength and/or shape of the field that our electromagnets are creating?

...which leads to my question about changing the (externally applied) magnetic field to fly these disks around complex, 3D paths.

To sum up:
No

Aww. Spoilsport. Thanks for the answers though, here and up-thread.
posted by metaBugs at 9:36 AM on October 19, 2011


In a perfect vacuum (so that the thingy would never heat up or, at least, heat up imperceptibly slowly), shielded from bombarding particles like neutrinos and all that, and away from anything gravitationally significant -- like a planet, say -- would this thing loop round forever (or as close to forever as we could imagine)?

I ain't no scientist but my hunch says it would.

I'm probably wrong.
posted by run"monty at 11:06 AM on October 19, 2011


I don't think it's gravitation as much as heat that would cause problems, but if it was out in space, well away from stars, etc, it would loop for a very, very, very long time. But that should be that surprising. If you spun an asteroid, it would loop forever, too, and if you gave it a kick it would keep going forever. Conservation of momentum and inertia and all.
posted by empath at 11:11 AM on October 19, 2011


My question was intended to be: with an array of stationary electromagnets and some hard thinking, can we modulate their output to create a magnetic field that moves smoothly across the room, which would therefore give us a flying packing crate?

That's how maglev trains work.
posted by empath at 11:12 AM on October 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Consider me the comic relief in this thread: I got curious about Joe in Australia's translation of my attempt at saying "I like the hi-tech train" in Hebrew. While 'galav' does mean 'barber', as he intimated, it happens that the word 'maglev' is an actual Hebrew word meaning 'whip', or 'bullwhip'.

So what I actually said in Hebrew was "I like the lash". Oh, if the cousins in Beersheva ever find that post I'll have a lot of explaining to do.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:33 AM on October 20, 2011


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