Magnetic Levitation

Barry's Magnetic Levitation

These coilguns with control circuits are great! Now... How can you use them for magnetic levitation?

This is slightly off-topic from coilguns, but magnetic levitation has many common design principles and is a little easier to build.

How Levitation Works

If you hold two permanent magnets close together, you see that one of them will jump strongly toward (or away) from the other. In 1842, Samuel Earnshaw expressed the perversity of inanimate magnetic objects in his theorem. It explains this frustrating behavior will always prevent you from suspending one permanent magnet above or below another, no matter how one arranges the two magnets. However, an active control circuit can get around this problem by rapidly adjusting the magnet's strength.

Click this image to see closeup of antigravity relay (38K)

The general principle is straight forward: An electromagnet pulls a ball upward while a light beam measures the exact position of the ball's top edge. The magnet's lifting force is adjusted according to position.

As less light is detected, the circuit reduces the electromagnet's current. With less current, the lifting effect is weaker and the ball can move downward until the light beam is less blocked. Voila! The ball stays centered on the detector! It is a small distance across the photodetector, perhaps a millimeter or two, but this is sufficient to measure small changes in position. Of course, if the ball is removed the coil runs at full power. And conversely, if the light beam is blocked the coil is turned completely off.

Click here to see image of breadboard circuit (54K)

This device uses two photodetectors: the "signal" detector looks for an interruption in the light beam, and the "reference" detector measures the background light. The circuit subtracts one signal from the other to determine the ball's position. The use of two detectors is my small contribution to advance the art of levitation. This design automatically compensates for changes in ambient light, and eliminates a manually adjusted potentiometer.

Barry's Maglev Demonstrator

Here's why I built one:

Levitator is lifting a hex nut (46K)

How does it work?

Lifting a small steel ball AND hexagonal standoff (45K)

So how was it all designed?

Action movie looks like flying saucer (476K) How do you get it working?

Other Fun Levitation Systems

There are many ways to levitate objects. Here are some fun methods that I've seen.

The simplest! Guy Marsden's Levitation Kit is built on a single fan controller chip!
The best! The Visual Levitation kit (read my review)
Completely free! Float your own Magnet over a hard drive (free!)
Fun toy! The Levitron antigravity spinning top
Cheap and cheesy Go to Edmund Scientific and search for "levitator"

Comments? Send me your suggestions and circuit improvements! Send your levitator e-mail to Barry and put "levitator" in the subject line. Please note: I am not interested in antigravity theories, overunity devices, gravitic shielding, fringe science or massage therapy. Thank you in advance for not asking.

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