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This article is about magnetic levitation. For trains based on this effect, see
. For the Ruby
MagLev (Ruby interpreter)
is a method by which an object is
no support other than
is used to counteract the effects of the
proves that using only static ferromagnetism it is impossible to stably levitate against
gravity, but servomechanisms, the use of diamagnetic materials, supercond
uction, or systems involving
eddy currents permit this to occur.
In some cases the lifting force is provided by magnetic levitation, but there is a mechanical support
bearing little load that provides stability. This is termed
evitation is used for
and for product display purposes.
Magnetic materials and systems are able to attract or press each other apart with a force dependent on the
magnetic field and the area of the magnets, and a
can be defined.
The magnetic pressure of a magnetic field can be calculated by:
is the force per unit area in N/m
, and μ
of the vacuum.
Static stability means tha
t any small displacement away from a stable equilibrium causes a net force to
push it back to the equilibrium point.
proved conclusively that it is not possible to levitate stably using only static,
macroscopic, paramagnetic fields. The forces acting on any paramagnetic object in any combination of
l make the object's position unstable along at least
one axis, and can be unstable along all axes. However, several possibilities exist to make levitation viable,
for example, the use of electronic stabilization or
materials; it can be shown that diamagnetic
materials are stable along at least one axis, and can be stable along all axes.
Dynamic stability occurs when the levitation system is able to damp out any vibration
ike motion that
] Stability methods
For successful levitation and control of all 6 axes (3 spatial and
3 rotational) a combination of permanent
magnets and electromagnets or diamagnets or superconductors as well as attractive and repulsive fields
can be be used. From Earnshaw's theorem at least one stable axis must be present for the system to levitate
essfully, but the other axes can be stabilised using ferromagnetism.
The primary ones used in
stabilized electromagnetic suspension (EMS),
spension (EDS), and (in the future)
] Mechanical constraint (Pseudo
With a small amount of mechanical constraint for
levitation is relatively
are mechanically constrained along a single vertical axis, for example, and arranged to
repel each other s
trongly, this will act to levitate one of the magnets above the other.
Another geometry is where the magnets are attracted, but constrained from touching by a tensile member,
such as a string or cable.
Another example is the
where a cylinder is suspended under an attractive magnet,
and stabilized by a needle bearing from below.
] Direct diamagnetic levitation
A live frog levitates inside a 32
vertical bore of a
in a magnetic field of about
High Field Magnet Laboratory
nk to video
A substance that is
repels a magnetic field. All materials have diamagnetic properties, but the
effect is very weak, and is usually overcome by the object's
which act in the opposite manner. Any material in which the d
iamagnetic component is strongest will be
repelled by a magnet, though this force is not usually very large.
does not apply to diamagnets. These be
have in the opposite manner to normal
magnets owing to their relative
< 1 (i.e. negative
Diamagnetic levitation can be used to levitate very light pieces of
moderately strong permanent magnet. As
is predominantly diamagnetic, this technique has been
used to levitate water droplets and even live animals, such as a grasshopper, frog and a mouse. However,
the magnetic fields required for this are very high, typically in the range of 16
, and therefore create
significant problems if
materials are nearby.
The minimum criterion f
or diamagnetic levitation is
χ is the
ρ is the
is the local
permeability of free space
is the rate of change of the magnetic field along the vertical axis
Assuming ideal conditions along the z
direction of solenoid magnet:
= 0), as well as the property they have of
completely expelling magnetic fields due to the
when the superconductivity in
forms. The levitation of the magnet is further stabilized due to
within the superconductor; this
tends to stop the superconductor leaving the magnetic field, e
ven if the levitated system is inverted.
These principles are exploited by EDS (electrodynamic suspension)
magnetic levitation trains
In trains where the weight of the large electromagnet is a major design issue (a
very strong magnetic field
is required to levitate a massive train) superconductors are sometimes proposed for use for the
electromagnet, since they can produce a stronger magnetic field for the same weight.
can be stably suspended by various configurations of strong permanent magnets and
strong diamagnets. When using superconducting magnets, the levitatio
n of a permanent magnet can even
be stabilized by the small diamagnetism of water in human fingers.
] Rotational stabilization
A magnet can be levitated against gravity when
stabilized by spinning it in a toroidal
created by a base ring of magnet(s). However, it will only remain stable until the rate of
below a critical threshold
the region of stability is quite narrow
both spatially and in the required rate of
precession. The first discovery of this phenomenon was by Roy Harrigan, a Vermont inventor who
patented a levitation device in 1983 based upon it.
Several devices using rotational stabilization (such as
toy) have been developed citing this patent. Non
commercial devices have been
created for un
iversity research laboratories, generally using magnets too powerful for safe public
The attraction from a fixed strength magnet decreases with increased distance, and increases at closer
s. This is termed 'unstable'. For a stable system, the opposite is needed, variations from a stable
position should push it back to the target position.
Stable magnetic levitation can be achieved by measuring the position and
of the object being
levitated, and using a
which continuously adjusts one or more electromagnets t
o correct the
object's motion, thus forming a
Many systems use magnetic attraction pulling upwards against gravity for these kinds of systems as this
inherent lateral stability, but some use a combination of magnetic attraction and magnetic
repulsion to push upwards.
This is termed ElectroMagnetic Suspension (EMS). For a very simple example, some tabletop levitation
demonstrations use this principle, a
nd the object cuts a beam of light to measure the position of the object.
The electromagnet is above the object being levitated; the electromagnet is turned off whenever the object
gets too close, and turned back on when it falls further away. Such a simpl
e system is not very robust; far
more effective control systems exist, but this illustrates the basic idea. A practical demonstration of such
system can be seen
. Of course in t
he real situation the problem becomes much more complex while
the requirements of a MAGLEV suspension are difficult to achieve, i.e the electromagnetic suspension has
to support very large mass (for axample 1T) within a small air gap (in the region of mm).
Also, the EMS
system has to accommodate the rail irregularities while follow the track gradients. Nevertheless, all these
requirements can be achieved using advance control strategies. A practical demonstration of a 25
magnetic suspension setup
. The Electromagnets are suspending 5mm below the
track (rail). The control can be done using classical strategies as shown
or modern control strategies
magnetic levitation trains
are based on th
is kind of levitation: The train wraps around the track, and
is pulled upwards from below. The
controls keep it safely at a constant distance from the track.
] Induced currents/Eddy currents
This is sometimes called
] Relative motion between conductors and magnets
If one moves a base made of a very good electrical conductor such as
a magnet, an (
) current will b
e induced in the conductor that will oppose the changes in the field and
create an opposite field that will repel the magnet (
). At a sufficiently high rate of movement, a
suspended magnet will levitate on the metal, or vice versa with suspended metal.
made of wire
thinner than the
for the frequencies seen by the metal works much more efficiently than solid
An especially technologically
interesting case of this comes when one uses a
instead of a
single pole permanent magnet, as this almost doubles the field strength, which in turn almost doubles the
strength of the eddy currents. The net effect is to more than triple the lift force. Using two opposed
increases the field even further.
Halbach arrays are also well
suited to magnetic levitation and stabilisation of
] Oscillating electromagnetic fields
can be levitated above an electromagnet (or vice versa) with an
through it. This causes any regular conductor to behave like a diamagnet, due to the
generated in the conductor.
Since the eddy currents create their own fields which oppose the magnetic
field, the co
nductive object is repelled from the electromagnet.
This effect requires non
ferromagnetic but highly conductive materials like
, as the
ferromagnetic ones are also strongly attracted to the electromagnet (although at high frequencies the field
can still be expelled) and tend to have a higher resistivity giving lower eddy currents. Again,
gives the best results.
The effect can be used for stunts such as levitating a telephone book by concealing an aluminium plate
] Strong focusing
Earnshaw's theory strictly only applies t
o static fields. Alternating magnetic fields, even purely alternating
can induce stability and confine a trajectory through a magnetic field to give a levitation
This is used in particle accelerators to confine and lift charged particles, and has been proposed for maglev
Most of the levitation techniques have various
Many of the active suspension techniques have a fairly narrow region of stability.
Magnetic fields are
and therefore in principle hav
e no built
in damping. This
can permit vibration modes to exist that can cause the item to leave the stable region. Eddy
currents can be stabilizing if a suitably shaped conductor is present in the field, and other
mechanical or electronic damping techniqu
es have been used in some cases.
Power and current requirements can be reasonably large to generate sufficiently strong magnetic
fields using electromagnets to lift significant mass.
Superconductors require very low temperatures to operate, often
cooling is employed.
, is a system of transportation that suspends, guides and propels vehicles,
predominantly trains, using
from a very large number of magnets for lift and
propulsion. This method has the potential to be faster, quieter and smoother than
systems. The technology has the potential to exceed 6,400
mi/h) if deployed in an
If not deployed in an evacuated tube the power needed for levitation is usually not a particularly
large percentage and most of the power needed is used to overcome air
, as with any other high speed
The highest recorded speed of a maglev train is 581 kilometres per hour (361 mph), achieved in Japan in
km/h faster than the conventional
speed record. This is slower than many aircraft, since
aircraft can fly at far higher altitudes where air drag is lower, thu
s high speeds are more readily attained.