No matter how its done, with whatever level of fakery, magnetic levitation just looks cool. We don’t know about you, but merely walking past the tackiest gadget shop, the displays of levitating and rotating objects always catches our eye. Superconductors aside, these devices are pretty much all operating in the same way; an object with a permanent rare-earth magnet is held in a stable position between a pair of electromagnets one above and one below, with some control electronics to adjust the field strength and close the loop.
But, there may be another way, albeit a rather special case, where a magnet can not only be levitated, but locked in place using a rotating magnetic field. The video shows a demonstration of how the mass of a magnet can be used to phase lock it against a rotating field. In essence, the magnet will want to rotate to align with the rotating magnetic field, but its mass will mean there is a time delay for the force to act and rotation to occur, which will lag the rotating magnetic field, and if it is phased just so, the rotation will be cancelled and the magnet will be locked in a stable position. Essentially the inertia of the magnet can be leveraged to counteract magnet’s tendency to rapidly rotate to find a stable position in the field.
Whilst the idea is not new, Turkish experimenter [Hamdi Ucar] has been working on this subject for some time (checkout his YouTube channel for a LOT of content on it), even going as far as to publish a very detailed academic paper on the subject. With our explanation here we’re trying to simplify the subject for the sake of brevity, but since the paper has a lot of gory details for the physicists among you, if you can handle the maths, you can come to your own conclusions.
We are big fans of the little desktop magnetic levitation setups that float a small object on a magnet. As [3D Printed Life] points out, they look like magic. He was surprised that the commercial units use analog electronics. He decided to build a digital version but didn’t know what he was getting into. He details his journey in the video you can see below.
Along with a custom control board, he decided to wind his own electromagnets. After finding that tedious he built a simple coil winder to automate some of the work.
The build uses a combination of 3D printed parts and metal rods to form a basic frame. The turbine is also 3D printed, making it easy to create the complex geometry for the curved fins. Rare earth magnets are then slotted into the parts in order to create the levitation effect. Two magnets are fitted to each frame piece, and one magnet is inserted into each end of the turbine. When aligned properly, the turbine will hover over the frame and can spin freely with almost no friction.
One concession made to functionality is a sewing needle inserted into the turbine. This presses against one part of the frame in order to keep the turbine from being pushed out of the magnetic field entirely. It’s possible that with very careful attention to detail in alignment, the pin could be eliminated, but it makes the system far more robust and reliable to have it there.
Floating in the magnetic field, a simple puff of air is enough to set the turbine spinning for quite some time. It makes for a captivating desk ornament, and one that can be tinkered with by changing the turbine blades for different performance. It may be frivolous, but at the larger scale, magnetic levitation is put to more serious uses like high-speed transport. Video after the break.
Maglev trains have long been touted as the new dawn for train technology. Despite keen and eager interest in the mid-20th century, development has been slow, and only limited commercial operations have ever seen service. One of the most well-known examples is the Shanghai Maglev Train which connects the airport to the greater city area. The system was purchased as a turnkey installation from Germany, operates over a distance of just 30.5 km, and according to Civil Engineering magazine cost $1.2 billion to build in 2001. Ever since, it’s served as a shining example of maglev technology — and a reminder of difficult and expensive maglev can be.
[Tom Stanton] is right about one thing: flywheels make excellent playthings. Whether watching a spinning top that never seems to slow down, or feeling the weird forces a gyroscope exerts, spinning things are oddly satisfying. And putting a flywheel to work as a battery makes it even cooler.
Of course, using a flywheel to store energy isn’t even close to being a new concept. But the principles [Tom] demonstrates in the video below, including the advantages of magnetically levitated bearings, are pretty cool to see all in one place. The flywheel itself is just a heavy aluminum disc on a shaft, with a pair of bearings on each side made of stacks of neodymium magnets. An additional low-friction thrust bearing at the end of the shaft keeps the systems suitably constrained, and allows the flywheel to spin for twelve minutes or more.
[Tom]’s next step was to harness some of the flywheel’s angular momentum to make electricity. He built a pair of rotors carrying more magnets, with a stator of custom-wound coils sandwiched between. A full-wave bridge rectifier and a capacitor complete the circuit and allow the flywheel to power a bunch of LEDs or even a small motor. The whole thing is nicely built and looks like a fun desk toy.
If everything goes according to plan, Elon Musk says the first generation of SpaceX’s massive Starship will make an orbital flight before the end of 2020. That’s a pretty bold claim, but when you’ve made landing rockets on their tails as in the old science fiction pulp magazines seem routine, we suppose you’ve earned the right to a bit of bravado. We’re excited to see the vehicle evolve over the next several months, but even if the real one stays grounded, we’ll gladly take this “flying” Starship model from [Chris Chimienti] as a consolation prize.
Feeling a bit let down by the 3D printable models of the Starship he found online, [Chris] set out to build his own. But it wasn’t enough to just make his bigger, stronger, and more accurate to Starship’s current design; he also wanted to make it a bit more exciting. Some RGB LEDs an Arduino embedded in the “cloud” stand the rocket sits on was a good start, and the landing pad inspired by SpaceX’s real autonomous spaceport drone ship Just Read the Instructions looks great all lit up.
But this is Starship we’re talking about, a vehicle that could literally push humanity towards being a multi-planet species. To do it justice, you’ve really got to knock it out of the park. So [Chris] found a magnetic levitation module online that could support a few hundred grams, and set to work on making his plastic Starship actually hover over the landing pad.
As you might imagine, it was a bit tricky. The first versions of the rocket looked great but came out too heavy, so he switched over to printing the model in so-called “spiral vase mode” which made it entirely hollow. Now far lighter and with a magnetic plate fit into the bottom, it was stable enough to float on its own. For the final touch, [Chris] added some red LEDs and a coin cell battery to the base of the Starship so it looks like the sleek craft is performing a last-second landing burn with its “impossible” full-flow staged combustion engines.
This booth was easy to miss at Maker Faire Bay Area 2019 amidst tall professional conference signage erected by adjacent exhibitors. It showcased the work of [Dr. Victor Chaney] who enjoys his day job as a dentist and thus feels no desire to commercialize his inventions — he’s building fun projects for the sake of personal enjoyment which he simply calls Vic’s Creations. Each project is built to his own standards, which are evidently quite high judging by the perfect glossy finish on every custom wood enclosure.
Some of these creations were aligned with his musical interests. The Backpacking Banjo was built around a (well cleaned) cat food can to satisfy the desire for a lightweight instrument he can take camping. His Musical Laser Rainbow Machine (fully documented in Nuts & Volts) was created so little bands formed by independent artists like himself can have a visual light show to go with their live performances. The Music Kaleidoscope is another execution along similar lines, with an LED array whose colors are dictated by music. Venturing outside the world of music, we see a magnetically levitated Castle In The Clouds which also receives power wirelessly to illuminate LEDs
The largest and most complex work on display is an epic electromechanical masterpiece. Par One is a rolling ball sculpture featuring the most convoluted golf course ever. Several more rolling ball sculptures (also called marble machines or marble runs) are on display at Dr. Chaney’s office which must make it the coolest dentist’s lobby ever. The lifelike motions he was able to get from the automatons he built into the sculpture are breathtaking, as you can see below.