Mini Maglev Train Demonstration – Superconductors, magnetic fields, liquid Nitrogen and a whole load of fun!
The first Maglev (magnetic levitation) patent was filed and awarded in 1905 by a German inventor,Alfred Zehden in the United States. Since then, a few working maglev transports have come and gone with more than a few in the pipeline.
As a child, I had always been fascinated by trains and track-bound transportion including underground trains, surface trams and over ground monorails. I had also been curious, as almost all children are, about, how the magnetic poles interact with one another: opposites-attract and like-repels.
Playing with magnets, pushing one magnet against the other on the table, to repel it in the opposite direction or ‘magically’ moving a magnet on a table surface with a ‘hidden’ one underneath – were some of the typical games that I made up.
Once these basic concepts were within my grasp, it was easy for the child in me, to see how magnets could be used to create a mass transit model or maglev powered train set. In the real world however, there are, of course, many more things to consider other than just having magnets repelling each other, creating motion along a track.
Fast forward to today, the technology required to make this possible including suspension, the type of tracks, propulsion, stability controls, guidance systems, speed, efficiency and safety are now all here. Maglev trains are actually here to stay.
Maglev Transport in Operation Around the World
Over the years, certain shuttles and Maglev trains have ceased operation among them are the Birmingham International Airport’s low speed maglev shuttle (1984 – 95), the Emsland transrapid (1984 – 2012) covering 31.5 km distance, the Vancouver Expo 86 fair 400m test track (1986 – 88) and the Berlin M-Bahn (1989 – 91) that ran on a 1.6 km track.
Other Maglev trains in operation today are in Japan, South Korea, Shanghai, Linimo (also in Japan) and Changsha (China). In Japan, test tracks and trains have been used since 1969 with test rides in multiple exhibitions and expositions. The Chuo Skinkansen line started its development since the 70s. Still under construction, the train will cover major towns; Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. The Tokyo and Nagoya track distance is 285.6 km making this one of the longest lines when open. The trains are expected to travel up to 505 km/h.
The Linimo line is an urban maglev operating since March 2005. Known as the Tobu-kyuryo line, it covers 9 km with a top speed of 100 km/h. It is sufficiently fast for a line with frequent stops with little to no noice impact on the surrounding communities which as another plus for Maglev technology compared to conventional trains. The speed limit means that the trains can navigate a short radius and operate safely even during inclement weather.
The South Korean maglev train travels up to 110 km/h and is limited to transfers between Seoul Metropolitan Subway to AREX’s Incheon International Airport station running a distance of 6.1 km servicing 6 stations. Two more stages are planned of 9.7 km and 37.4 km. Once completed it will become a circular line.
In China, the Shanghai Maglev Train or Transrapid is the fastest commercial train currently in operation, running at 430km/h top speed. It covers a range of 30.5 km between two stations, the Shanghai Pudong International Airport and central Pudong and does it under 8 minutes. It is know for its on-time and reliability greater than 99.97%. On test runs it was able to hit 501 km/h but in operation, it averages around 266km/h.
The Hunan provincial government in China launched the construction of a Maglev line between Changsha Huanghua International Airport and Changsha South Railway Station. Construction started in May 2014, completed by the end of 2015 with trial running on 26 December 2015, and finally started operations on 6 May 2016.
Other Maglevs under construction are the AMT test track in Power Springs, Georgia, USA, the Beijing S1 line, the SkyTran in Tel Aviv, Israel and the famous Chuo Shinkansen (Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka).
Short of making this sound like a Top Trumps of Trains, lets move on to a typical boy’s childhood dream of a ‘make it yourself’ maglev train set.
The Maglev Principle Train Model
The model demonstrated here in the video is made possible with superconductors, a magnetic track and super-cooling. A superconductor is a material capable of becoming a very good conductor at low temperatures (also known as its critical temperature). It can conduct electricity or transport electrons from one atom to another without resistance. Here are some known superconductive elements in the periodic table.
In this demonstration, the superconductors were cooled down with liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen has a low boiling point of -196 degree Celsius, when in contact with the super conductor, it brings down the temperature of the material.
The superconductor is then placed on the magnetic track to demonstrate the magnetic levitation effect. However as soon as you take the super conductor out of the liquid nitrogen, it slowly heats back to room temperature and the effect will slowly go away, as seen in the video.
To keep it cool for longer, this superconductor is partly insulated with white plumbing tape and placed in a little container. Liquid nitrogen is then continuously poured into this container keeping the superconductor cool for even longer. You can see the difference in the demonstration where a superconductor alone heats up to room temperature quickly while the insulated and contained one stays levitating for longer.
While we would not advise working with liquid nitrogen, especially not for little children, it is certainly possible, with responsible adult supervision that a mini track be built such as those shown below to demonstration the principle of maglev train. We hope you will enjoy the video below.