“Quantum Levitation”

Posted: October 21, 2011 in Random facts and WTFs, Random SMS Trivia, Technology

People suggested “Quantum Levitation” as a topic for a blog post. I haven’t been studying Subatomic/Quantum Physics for over 2 years now and my knowledge of this subject hardly exceeds grade 12 Physics class, so, sorry if some of the things you read here seem incorrect or way too oversimplified. You’re always welcome to correct me and/or add some additional info and in-depth explanation.

So, I think that many of you have already seen this video:

The phenomenon demonstrated in this video has been known for almost 100 years now, and it’s been properly explained in mid-1930’s by German physicists.

See, when cooled to a certain temperature, some materials tend to convert into a state of superconductivity, in which all electrical charges can go through this material without delays and energy loses. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe it has something to do with the energy levels within atomic shells (where all their electrons “spin” in a quantum cloud), considering that the energy would be at a very minimum level under such temperatures (the temperature of liquid nitrogen, which they used to cool down this piece of sapphire in the video, is usually below -196 C), so there might be some weird things occurring.

Interestingly, when a material becomes superconductive, it “pushes” all the magnetic fields out of its body. So, when a ferromagnet is introduced to a cold superconductor, its magnetic force gets repelled, causing it to levitate near this superconductor. And it can also be moved across its surface with no friction whatsoever (as there is no physical contact between these two materials, and the magnetic fields don’t produce friction by definition), so it might be a very efficient mode of transportation one day (if you discount the cost of liquid nitrogen in such quantities, as well as the aerodynamic friction).

My explanation is way too oversimplified, and it doesn’t cover some key things observed in this video-demonstration (such as why the hell gravity has no visible effect on the magnet when it’s “fixed” in space and turned upside-down). I would be really thankful to hear a more in-depth explanation of this phenomenon.

Anyway, what’s the practical application of this? I’m not sure. Of course, hypothetically, you can come up with lots of fun stuff, such as quiet frictionless trains, aircrafts that are powered by magnetic fields alone (UFO, anyone?), some weird space rails (temperature is rather close to the absolute zero out there, so it wouldn’t be problem to turn a pile of metal into powerful superconductors, lol). But those are still nothing more than wild sci-fi fantasies (lol, again). We need to figure out lots of things and solve multiple purely engineering problems first….

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