Levitation

There are a number of ideas that have been dreamt up and become the norm in the world of science fiction; time travel, invisibility, teleportation and, of course, levitation.

It appears that levitation may fast become a new reality. Physicists at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, did in fact develop a theory which enabled them to demonstrate an object that appeared to be levitating. The trick? They reversed the Casimir force.

On the Nano scale, when we talk of quantum physics relating to atoms and their components, there is an inherent force which keeps all the constituents of atoms together. The majority of an atom is in fact empty space, but somehow the atom manages to keep intact, despite the constituents whizzing around the atom. They are being held together by the Casimir force.

This force is only felt on the Nano scale, and is one of main problems for the advancement of nanotechnology.

However the St Andrews team have managed to reverse this force, so that all the constituents repel whatever is around them, enabling a small metallic object to levitate. The team believe this could be extended to much larger objects and even humans.

So it is all well and good levitating something, and even ourselves, but surely we would want to move around once we were levitating? Wouldn’t it be great if we could just levitate anything from a glass of water on the windowsill, to printouts from household all in one printers, and move them across the room next to you?

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have developed ZeroN, a computer controlled levitating ball.

The levitation effect only works in a specially designed environment made by the team which is made up of infrared stereo cameras, similar to webcams, and a host of active electromagnets.

The varieties of cameras are able to track, in 3D, the every move of the ZeroN. This information is fed back to a central computer which sends the required signals to the correct electromagnets. These electromagnets repel or attract as need be, in order to keep the ZeroN moving in a continuously smooth motion.

As a result of this control over the electromagnets, the ZeroN can be guided wherever a user wishes. Interestingly the team has also enabled the ZeroN to ‘remember’ a path.

The team demonstrated this by holding the ZeroN in their hand and moving it in a wave-like motion, through the special environment. They then brought the ZeroN back to its original position and let go. The ZeroN at that point proceeded through the environment, moving exactly in line with wave-like motion.

There is still much work to be done with the ZeroN, and levitation in general, but it is another step closer to our dream of bringing levitation out of the depths of science fiction.

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