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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Wizard Did It: Levitation.

What would you give for a flying car? Or to fly like Superman? Or...hell, making anything fly would be pretty cool. Alas, unlike Arthur Weasley or anyone else from Potterland, we are unable to make cars, or much of anything else, fly. Shame on us.

Remember where we parked.

Kidding! Science has actually found ways to make things levitate. The flying cars from The Jetsons are coming soon! WE PROMISE!

There are several ways that science can make things levitate, including sound and wind, but the favorite method uses magnets. The most common way that scientists levitate things involves superconductors in a process called diamagnetism. Diamagnetism creates a little sandwich of similar magnetic fields, making the two repel. This process has been used most famously with a very confused frog, but also grasshoppers, various minerals, and mice. That's right: After mice, we will become very close to levitating humans.

As for the flying cars, we already have flying trains. There are several trains around the world dubbed "maglevs" because they levitate using super-magnets. (For those curious, the JR-Maglevappears to be the only one still running.)  Maglev creates another magnetic 'sandwich' in which a criss-cross of magnetic fields keeps the train stable and slightly above the ground. It's not quite diamagnetism, but still levitating with magnets. Not only does this keep the tracks really clean, it reduces the amount of energy necessary to run the trains. It's a win-win situation.

For those of you into parapsychology, levitation does sometimes happen to people...only they are (usually) unable to control when and how. It is often embarrassing when it happens. As an example of how unpredictable things can get, poltergeist activity can often be linked to unconscious telekinesis from teenage girls. It's that random if it ever happens.

Although some people may have the power to levitate objects and/or themselves, there is a good chance that 1. they are faking it (like almost every yogi in India) or 2. the power is extremely spontaneous and difficult to record. There has only been one recorded, controlled, and repeated test of levitation, and even that has been put under criticism. You're better off ghost hunting if you really want to see levitation or any sort of telekinesis in action.

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