Superconductor Levitation, “Kinda Fun,” and Useful? [Video]

This razor-thin superconductor could have huge benefits.
This razor-thin superconductor could have huge benefits.

Aside from use in the LHC [Large Hadron Collider] superconductors have application in the real world. After all, no one really needs a hadron collider in their back yard, not even a little one.

Thinking about the properties of superconductors, mainly two things come to mind. First, they can carry insane amounts of electricity with almost zero resistance. For example, thanks to the resistance in copper wire, you’ll need bigger wires to carry more current without setting anything on fire. The wires going into the typical home are much thinner than those that carry electricity from the power plant to your town. On the other hand, the cables can only get so thick before they become so heavy as to be unmanageable, thus limiting the amount of energy they can carry. Superconducting wires can carry hundreds of times the amperage of a comparable non-superconducting wire.

Another interesting property of superconductors is their ability to conduct magnetism. When cooled to its operating temperature, somewhere around -300°F [ -184°C], superconductor electrical resistance drops to near-zero, but also does something really cool in the presence of a magnet. It levitates. A series of magnets can hold a superconductor spinning above it with no physical contact. As if this wasn’t cool enough, researchers in Tel Aviv have developed a superconducting material that is sandwiched between layers of gold and sapphire crystal. Instead of spinning, the superconductor maintains it’s position and orientation. Placed on a track of magnets, about $7,000-worth in the demonstration, the superconductor floats around on the magnetic field…

Today, a couple of different maglev [magnetic levitation] trains use permanent magnets or electromagnets to do the job. Even the new Japanese maglev train, which should be running by 2027, uses superconducting electromagnets. Interestingly, all these designs require the train to be moving at least 60mph before the train actually levitates, but what if a superconductor, such as the one in the previous video, could levitate the train without it being in motion, and without using any electricity, aside from the cooling system? Such a maglev train would be significantly more efficient.

Image © North Museum of Natural History & Science, Lancaster, Pennsylvania


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