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Summary:

Superconductors have some pretty amazing characteristics — one of them is that they repel magnets. In this demo at Google Solves for X this weekend, a scientists shows off this levitation trick, which could be used in many applications.

This weekend Google held its second annual Google Solve for X event, which brings together big thinkers, inventors and innovators to show off moonshot science and technology that can help solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. Last year they had speakers like X Prize founder Peter Diamandis, actress Geena Davis, inventor Saul Griffith, and Google’s Eric Schmidt and Sergey Brin.

While Google hasn’t officially released the content from the event yet, this video (watch below) from one of the demonstrations has made its way onto YouTube. It was taken by investor Steve Jurvetson, and it’s a demonstration of a super cold superconductor puck that levitates above and around a magnetic track. A superconductor is a quantum state of matter where below a certain temperature a substance conducts electricity with no loss and also repels magnetic fields.

In the video the scientist takes the super-cooled puck and places it on top of the magnetic track. Because the superconductor repels the magnet, it is locked in place above it, and by adding a slight touch to the puck, it smoothly travels around the track, levitated above it.

Scientists have been doing these types of demonstrations for years, and I’ve embedded another more thorough demo video below that was done onstage at a TED event back in 2012. But these levitation characteristics of superconductors are interesting because they can be used for various applications. Superconductors are being used for superconducting cables for the power industry, for energy storage, for particle accelerators and for MRI machines.

In the TED video, which features Israeli entrepreneur and inventor Boaz Almog, he explains how the superconductor levitation is incredibly strong — it’s a 3-inch disk that levitates some 70,000 times its own weight. If such a technology was used for transportation, a small amount of chilled superconductors could levitate, say, a car or a train around a track.

To move these superconducting characteristics into commercial applications, scientists will have to lower the cost of developing and deploying the super chilled superconductors. Chilling something to such an extreme temperature requires a lot of energy, which is costly.

But getting these applications to market could deliver moon-shot style — 10X — gains across different sectors. That’s what Google’s Google X lab and Google’s Solve for X events are focused on: moving beyond incremental innovation and pushing moonshots. The Google X lab has hatched big ideas like driverless cars or Google Glasses.

  1. There are maglev trains around. But cost of “rails” is too high for them to be economical for anything but very short distance showoff projects.

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    1. sublime darkness Monday, February 10, 2014

      for now, maybe

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  2. George Thiruvathukal Monday, February 10, 2014

    Awesome! It’s called quantum levitation, quantum locking, or flux pinning. But it’s more “new to you” than “new”. A couple other videos:

    This one shows some other properties:

    And using a Hot Wheel’s type demo is just a bit more fun:

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  3. If you look on the Google Solve for website (http://googleblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/solve-for-x-2014-celebrating-and.html) , the ‘new’ moonshot being presented with this demo was discovering a new generation of superconductors.

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  4. jhkljhkl lkhkhh Tuesday, February 11, 2014

    Yes we have all seen this stupid puck levitating around the track a million times. Wee what a lot of fun. Now stop playing with toys and make something practical.

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  5. Superconducting Levitation Thursday, February 13, 2014

    Full video of Google Solve for talk on superconducting levitation and discovering new superconductors here:

    https://www.solveforx.com/moonshots/suchitra-sebastian-a-new-generation-of-superconductors

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