Magnetic Levitation

Principle Of Operation

Imagine that two bar magnets are suspended one above the other with like poles (two north poles or two south poles) directly above and below each other. Any effort to bring these two magnets into contact with each other will have to overcome the force of repulsion that exists between two like magnetic poles. The strength of that force of repulsion depends, among other things, on the strength of the magnetic field between the two bar magnets. The stronger the magnet field, the stronger the force of repulsion.

If one were to repeat this experiment using a very small, very light bar magnet as the upper member of the pair, one could imagine that the force of repulsion would be sufficient to hold the smaller magnet suspended—levitated—in air. This example illustrates the principle that the force of repulsion between the two magnets is able to keep the upper object suspended in air.

In fact, the force of repulsion between two bar magnets would be too small to produce the effect described here. In actual experiments with magnetic levitation, the phenomenon is produced by magnetic fields obtained from electromagnets. For example, imagine that a metal ring is fitted loosely around a cylindrical metal core attached to an external source of electrical current. When current flows through the core, it sets up a magnetic field within the core. That magnetic field, in turn, sets up a current in the metal ring which produces its own magnetic field. According to Lenz's law, the two magnetic fields thus produced—one in the metal core and one in the metal ring—have opposing polarities. The effect one observes in such an experiment is that the metal ring rises upward along the metal core as the two parts of the system are repelled by each other. If the current is increased to a sufficient level, the ring can actually be caused to fly upward off the core. Alternatively, the current can be adjusted so that the ring can be held in suspension at any given height with relation to the core.