You might have seen some videos on the internet where physicists or scientist ‘levitates’ a disk in open air and it keeps itself locked in mid-air without any support. You must have wondered how that is even possible. The simple answer to your question is quantum physics.
Quantum physics 101
Quantum physics is a deviation from classical physics. It comes into play when theories of classical physics fail to apply in the realms of atomic and sub atomic particle. It’s still a very new concept quantum physics and it has helped us answer some of the questions of nature which couldn’t be explained by classical physics alone. One such example being the dual nature of light.
The particles such as atoms and photons which follow the rules of quantum physics are called as quantum particles. One of the weird characteristic of quantum particles is that they can exist in multiple places at once. It is a phenomenon called superposition.
Many new findings are going on in the field of quantum mechanics or quantum physics and one such recent invention is the quantum levitation. In this article I will talk about the concept of quantum levitation and the promising future it proposes.
The science of quantum levitation
Quantum levitation is a process in which scientists uses the properties of quantum physics to levitate or lift up an object (specifically a superconductor) over a magnetic source without any support. Here is an image to give you a clearer picture.
Fig. 1: A Representation Image Capturing Science of Quantum Levitation
So what is the science behind it
Firstly, quantum levitation is only possible with superconductors because of its numerous ‘magiclike’properties. Superconductivity is the phenomenon when the conductor offers exactly zero electrical resistance when it is cooled below a critical temperature. It is the state of perfect conductivity in which there are no losses of energy in the form of heat,light etc.
Now superconductors have a general disliking of the magnetic fields. Unlike normal conductors, super conductors ‘expels’ the magnetic field from the inside.When magnetic fields are introduced in to a super conducting material, the super conductor generates small currents on its surface that cancels the incoming magnetic field. And what we are left with is zero magnetic fields inside the super conductor.
This phenomenon is often referred as Meissner effect. This love and hate relationship betweensuperconductors and magnetic fields has let to the invention of what we now call as quantum levitation or more specifically quantum locking.
The concept of quantum locking
As I’ve said earlier, superconductors hate magnetic field and would try their best to repel the magnetic force. But achieving the perfect ideal conditions is seemingly impossible. Even in a big laboratory. So strands of magnetic field are always left inside the superconductor. Now the superconductor with strands of magnetic field inside it and placed in a magnetic field doesn’t like to move around.
Why? Because the movement of the superconductor will dissipate energy which will break the phenomenon of superconductivity. Therefore to avoid this movement, the superconductor locks the strands of magnetic field inside it. These strands of magnetic field are basically nothing but flux lines. So this superconductor locks these flux lines in its place. While doing this what the superconductor actually does is that it locks itself in place. The superconductor refuses to move in a magnetic field because any movement will change the flux lines and disturb the state of superconductivity.
This three dimensional locking of the superconductor is what is known as quantum locking. You see now, it’snot just levitation, it’s locking!
But there is another case. If we take a circular magnet in which the field lines is same all around it, the super conductor will be able to freely rotate along the axis of the magnet. Why? Because as long as it rotates, the quantum locking is maintained. If you extend the circular magnet to make a large circular rail track, the super conductor levitates and moves frictionally on the circular rail track.
The future of super conductors and quantum locking
You would be surprised to know that in a small disk of only about 3 inches and half a micron thick, there are about One hundred billion (100,000,000,000) flux lines! But that’s not the most astounding fact.The most astounding fact is that this disk canlevitate something 70,000 times its own weight without breaking out of quantum locking!
It is only recently that we are beginning to understand in detail about superconductivity, quantum locking or quantum physics. And this has opened a world of whole new discoveries and inventions.Scientists are still not able to propose a theory as to why superconductors behave the way they do. And why do they lose their ‘magic like’properties above a certain temperature.But surly superconductors propose a promising future.
These superconductors can be used to produce strong magnetic fields which can be used in MRI machines or particle accelerators. Not only this, we can store energy in superconductors because they have no dissipation. Even we can produce ‘superconducting’ power cables to transfer enormous amount of currents from power stations.
And what is the future of quantum locking?
Quantum locking has given rooms to new ideas by creative and visionary people. Justimagine a car ora train ora simple hoverboard working on the principle of quantum levitation. We can build magnetic tracks and our vehicles of superconductor for our mode of transportation. How clean and energy efficient that would be! Although it is science fiction for now but after all it is not impossible to achieve. Or imagine a small superconducting disk of about 2mm thick. This small disk can levitate up to 1000Kg which is equivalent to a small car in your hand. Amazing!
As of right now I am dreaming of a world where houses are ‘levitated’from the ground and cars can fly all based on the concept of quantum locking.The science fiction movies we have all seen are after all not seemingly impossible to make it into a reality.
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