October 19th, 2011
02:51 PM ET

Looks like magic: quantum levitation

It looks like something out of a magic show, where the magician is able to defy gravity and float or levitate an object in midair with no apparent explanation. Check out this really cool video which is not a Vegas show, but an example of something called quantum levitation:


It’s not magic at all, but a very cool demonstration from the Association of Science-Technology Centers. It’s a demo from Tel-Aviv University on what happens when a superconductor gets trapped in a magnetic field. What you’re witnessing is something similar to the Meissner Effect.

A disk of very thin sapphire, coated by a material called yttrium barium copper oxide (YBa2Cu3O7-x, to be exact) gets thrown into a bath of liquid nitrogen to bring it to negative 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This creates a superconductor, or an object that conducts electricity without resistance and no energy loss. (I wish my air conditioner could have pulled that off this summer).

A row of magnets is added, and the disc seems to float or be trapped by the magnetic field. The combination of magnetism and superconductivity create the levitation. According to the university’s website, the two fields "don’t like each other." The two fields repel each other, much like putting the opposite ends of a magnet together.

In this case, however, some of the magnetic field does penetrate though and creates something called a flux tube. These tubes move, and the superconductor tries to stop that so the conductor looks as if it is locked in midair.

Don't plan on jumping on the "quantum levitation train" to shorten your daily commute any time soon. Until scientists can figure out a way to have a superconductor at a temperature other than negative 300, the idea is not yet practical. Maybe someday... Stay tuned.

soundoff (58 Responses)
  1. ross

    what is the music?

    November 6, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
  2. Doogie

    This is how UFO's move silently and swiftly.

    November 3, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  3. freddy

    I want my jet pack back

    November 2, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  4. bradley

    Good way to mine an comet.

    November 2, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • bradley

      A comet.

      November 2, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  5. elango

    Explained in plain English here... http://finchin.com/2011/10/18/quantum-levitation-explanation/

    October 24, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  6. qwedie

    What if it were in Space? I would be cold enough to keep it moving and gaining speed as it went along. Lots of Apps in that thought if possible.

    October 20, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • EuphoriCrest

      Are you really suggesting building an anti-gravity device in space where there is no gravity? Seriously?

      October 20, 2011 at 11:20 am |
      • Sheepleherder

        Micro or There is ALWAYS gravity.

        October 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
      • James

        Anti-Gravity? What are you talking about? Its a repulsive field. The fields will repulse each other in 1 G, 1000 G, or micro-G...

        True that there is no need to "levitate" anything in a place with no UP and DOWN but...

        You could build a "repulsor field piston" engine with a rail running the length of a ship. At one end you put a constant-field generator and mount put the "piston" in the form of a mobile generator of the opposing field type mounted on the rail.

        You then fire the rail-mount generator with its field up along the rail. The piston field hits the constant field up front, creating repulsive "pull" force propelling hull of the ship forward and bouncing the piston back down the rail at the same time (with no "reverse" kinetic energy being imparted on the hull because you can keep the "piston" physically seperated from the rail by stone age basic mag-lev repulsor rendering it frictionless.

        That said, the piston being magnetic and all, there's no reason why the rail can't be set up to generate electrical charge as the piston slides back and forth (think those self-charging flashlights). This power can be used to apply magnetic field braking to the piston (slowing/stopping its "rearward" motion) and to fire the piston back "forward" by rail-gun magnetic acceleration (or attachment of a physical rail "sled" as may be prefered.)

        Assuming a decent efficiencies the system could be self-sufficient or nearly so for a ridiculously long time with only a single initial firing burst for the piston from a conventional fission plant charging the capacitor for the initial shot.

        Standard reaction thrusters can rotate the ship along its long axis to point the "engine" in an about face for deceleration (or in any other direction, timed between piston "strokes", for generating a sudden and very accurate Delta-V... also a secondary capacitor with a large stored pulse could be used to fire a the piston at double or more than stardard velocity for a sudden burst of extreme acceleration in an emergency or again to generate an instant delta-v... (Combat applications?)

        The biggest limitation would be the negative effects this sort of piston acceleration would have on the crew. Instead of a gentle constant-thrust it would be a series of G-smacks while building up your base velocity a in tiny bursts however-many Gees of accel. This would be throttle-able so the smacks would be more benign if you don't need to SUDDENLTY (combat) build a huge number of KPS in base or delta velocity. However even low gees of accel in this form might be rather unsettling...

        Still, an interesting engineering thought excercise – but it doesn't help that Cee is the speed limit and for the distances one needs to go to get anywhere worthwhile Cee is exceedingly slow 🙁

        October 22, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • snow

      well, you know, some genius ideas do come out of seemingly crazy thoughts.

      The anti gravity shield around a space vehicle can ensure that the vehicle moves in a straight line (without the heavenly bodies gravity effecting the trajectory). But this is assuming that the vehicle has capabilities to traverse a path that takes us beside multiple heavenly bodies, which in itself is so far in future that this problem need not be thought about at this time.

      However, second part about using the magnetism to accelerate a vehicle in space is something that can be looked at right now.

      October 20, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  7. Robert Bell

    "(I wish my air conditioner could have pulled that off this summer)."

    This statement sort of points up the ignorance of the writer. Even if an air conditioner were 100% efficient, it still takes energy to pump the heat out of your house.

    It would be akin to saying, "Gee, I wish my car was 100% efficient". You would still need fuel to accelerate and climb hills.

    October 20, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Russ

      I love when ignorant people attempt to make somebody else look ignorant. When did the author say they wouldn't need energy for an air conditioner? They want it to be more efficient and made a poor attempt at humor, but what I find funny is that you did not bother to reread such a short article before blasting the author with your own ignorance. You just made my day.

      October 21, 2011 at 6:36 am |
    • John

      A car may need energy to climb a hill, but a car can also generate energy descending that same hill, or braking, compensating (at least in part) for the climb. Hybrid cars do this already.

      November 6, 2011 at 12:39 am |
  8. EuphoriCrest

    Wow. A person called a writer wrote this thing called an article about something called science. Sheesh...

    October 20, 2011 at 9:37 am |
  9. Bob

    Hmm we could put these in cars haha the yruthium Barium copper coated sapphires are thrown into a liquid nitrogen bath and instead of wheels we can use containers. (Because we have containers which can hold super cooled objects such as Liquid Nitrogen.) Thus the containers hold the substance and the Earth's magnetic force holds it aloft To move the car we propel it using some type of force.

    October 20, 2011 at 8:57 am |
    • The Atlanteans

      Such as gasoline perhaps? *Facepalm*

      October 22, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  10. Gager

    According to some it is god that makes it happen. You don't need to know science, you just need to know god crap.

    October 20, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • sbast18

      Guessing you just had to toss that comment out there to say something negative about about God, Gager... I'm pretty sure your perspectives on life and your lack of religion are all very noteworthy, though 🙂

      October 20, 2011 at 10:34 am |
      • Sean

        That would be a negative comment at Christians not ‘god’. Reading comprehension is your friend.

        October 20, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
      • Russ

        I like how he doesn't care about religion OR science. Let's just make up everything as we go! To hell with thousands of years of religious scholars and scientific discovery making a decent attempt to explain the universe.

        October 21, 2011 at 6:44 am |
  11. Seveneight Nine

    And now we're waiting for the next fantastic scientific discovery by an Arab university ...

    October 20, 2011 at 5:16 am |
    • snow

      aw don't be such a douche racist seven. you do know that a number of mathematical and scientific discoveries you take for granted these days did originate in arab world

      October 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  12. Karim

    Superconductors and dia-magnetism is over a decade old...

    October 19, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
    • Nick

      I didn't know there were hipster scientists. "I was floating superconducters around before it was supercooled"

      October 20, 2011 at 12:05 am |
      • svann

        that was bad

        October 20, 2011 at 1:09 am |
      • einstein

        Dat waz very good sir, vvery wellz done!

        October 20, 2011 at 9:19 am |
      • Uncle Owen

        Nicely done

        October 20, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • g0bl0x

      He's right though, super conductivity is really old news and they've been trying to make it happen without the liquid nitrogen bath for a while now with no luck.

      October 20, 2011 at 12:53 am |
      • JG

        There is one room-temperature superconductor. It's at the heart of Intel's processors. The metallic gates in the transistors are room temperature superconductors.

        October 20, 2011 at 6:57 am |
      • Itsafact

        There is no "room temperature" superconductor. Period. And if there were, its only application would not be in intel processors.

        October 20, 2011 at 7:39 am |
      • Scott

        @JG: yeah, if there WERE room temperature superconductors, your computer would cost a few million dollars, because the demand for the material would be so high. (As an afterthought: the "unobtanium" in Avatar is a room temp superconductor, and I think it was 40 million/kg)

        October 20, 2011 at 8:02 am |
      • Uncle Owen

        Just watched Avatar again last night; it's 20 million/kilo

        October 20, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  13. K Sly

    IT is videos like this, that will help inspire the next generation of NASA scientists. And that is not a bad thing at all..
    Hopefully the technology will be enhanced, so we can levitate the GOP back to there odd little planet. 😉

    October 19, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • End Party System

      We could send the Democrats too! Send them together and let them destroy the planet as they have destroyed the US.

      October 20, 2011 at 4:25 am |
      • Jorge

        @EndPartySystem-You want to blame the right person for all your shortfalls? Look in the mirror.

        October 20, 2011 at 7:27 am |
    • JG

      Yeah, blame it on the other guy. It's gotten us so far in the last 20 years. Dbag.

      October 20, 2011 at 6:58 am |
  14. ngc1300

    re: larry-"another probable waste of time of time and money for something that will never be useful". An intelligent fellow such as you is of course talking about the wars we are engaged in currently, not pursuing basic research.

    October 19, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  15. Hadenufyet

    Go back to science class kids..this isn't magnetic repulsion.

    October 19, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  16. Greg

    Magnetic levitation is old news – if it ever was news at all.

    October 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  17. Luke Somers

    So, how is this NOT the Meissner effect? This is nifty, but it doesn't seem to be news, really. Plus, maglev trains exist! They've been built in Germany and Japan. And that's despite having to keep it at around -200°C.

    October 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • tokencode

      This is NOT the technology used in maglev trains today. Maglev's work by using gravity as the opposing force to the magnets, rather than locking in place within a magnetic field. This technology has the potential to far more useful if they can perfect it.

      October 20, 2011 at 3:59 am |
  18. larry

    another probable wast of time and money for something that will never be useful

    October 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Fig1024

      this research is one of the stepping stones to creating high temperature superconductors. When they are finally created, it will be equivalent to the next Industrial Revolution. All the modern life would be transformed in ways nobody can fully comprehend. The possibilities this opens are great. Whoever manufactures it will make a multi-billion dollar industry, on scale of Microsoft.

      October 19, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • TJ

      You mean like your conception..

      October 19, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
      • Daws

        Hey now...he's dad paid good money for that! 😛

        October 20, 2011 at 5:50 am |
    • Ian

      Good thing the people who first studied electricity, which didn't have much practical use for a very long time, ignored morons like you.

      October 19, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
    • tokencode

      Yea like all that computer junk and electricity....

      October 20, 2011 at 4:02 am |
    • snow

      just like internet too.. eh, larry.. I mean some moron like you must have argued, why in the world would there be a need for so many computer thingys.. and who in their wildest dreams would think about connecting them all.. It just would be a waste of money that could be used to feed poor children in africa.. right?? right?? huh?!

      October 20, 2011 at 4:18 am |
    • Jorge

      Maybe you would like to live with the Amish (oh wait, they manufacture electric fireplaces now, sorry).

      October 20, 2011 at 7:30 am |
    • Sean


      I hear your church’s bells ringing… hurry along now.

      October 20, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  19. Alvey

    "The two fields repel each other, much like putting the opposite ends of a magnet together."
    Last time I checked, the opposite ends of a magnet are ATTRACTED to each other. Hence the commonly used phrase, "opposites attract".

    October 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  20. Augustin3

    This is bloody amazing, it's people like this that we as a society need to hold to celebrity status and not actors and actresses.

    October 19, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Vyse83

      @Augustin, Totally agree with you. If more children looked up to people like this, our world would advance higher and quicker then ever before.

      October 19, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Dude

      Remember in the late 50's and 60's when scientists, engineers and astronauts were celebrities? Today, America is #60 in per capita graduation of engineers.

      We're number 60! We're number 60! We're number 60!

      October 19, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
      • Zeynep

        That's really sad!

        October 19, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
      • Jorge

        Yeah, and the d!psh!t belt (North Carolina to Arizona) is the heartland of the Republic of Dufusopolis, places where people like the ones I work with spell 'nucular' and 'indistrial buring' on their resumes.

        October 20, 2011 at 7:40 am |


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