One popular science experiment we are often asked about is the magnetic levitating train. We built a basic version of this experiment to highlight some of the challenges and solutions of a project like this. Of course, once you figure out the basic setup we've built here, you could let your imagination run wild and build some really cool tracks!
This simple craft can help you understand the basic magnetic principles that go into MagLev trains. It's amazing that with the use of magnets, a train can be travel at over 300mph!
In this article, we'll go through some basic track construction, as well as provide some challenges and of course some technical magnetic info!
Materials needed: Neodymium magnets, Lego's (or other building blocks), and superglue...that's it!
Step 1: Track Construction - Decide on Design
The first step when constructing this basic MagLev train is deciding on your design. Since we created this just to show you the basics behind it (not to show off our artistic ability), we chose a simple, 5 inch long, straight track. We used 5 BX041 magnets for the track.
Step 2: Track Construction - Gluing
Once we decided to go with our simple track, we simply glued those BX041 magnets to the top of the Lego's.
The important thing to keep in mind with this step is all of the magnets need to be facing the same way. For example, all of the magnets need to have either the north pole facing up, or the south pole. This is important because MagLev trains work on the basic principle of repelling magnets. It is important that all the magnets be orientated the same way, so that you know which way to orient the magnets on the train as well.
We used our Electronic Pole Identifier to make this process pretty simple.
For tips on how to effectively glue magnets, check out this article.
Step 3: Train Construction
Another pretty simple step, but remember to keep in mind we need the magnets to repel. We chose a longer Lego piece to add a bit of stability. You can also chose to used different sized magnets, depending on what distance you want the train to repel from the track.
As you can see from the chart we included, two BX041 magnets will repel a pretty visible distance, even with some weight on them.
Step 4: Add Stability
Once the magnets are glued to the train, you need to add some stability to the repelling magnets. Repelling magnets are highly unstable, magnets do not want to repel. Adding the right amount of weight and stability can help you achieve stable levitation.
Our stability came in the way of adding Lego's underneath the train. These legs hug the track closely, but do not touch the track. This adds side to side stability. Using two magnets on either side of the long train piece adds stability front to back. We now have a stable levitating train!
Step 5: Add Weight If Necessary
We found that using the BX041 magnets, the train repelled pretty far away from the track. This could potentially make the train unstable. We added some bolts to the side to weigh the train down a little bit, which also decreased the repel distance. This added some better stability to the magnets.
Step 6: Challenges and Solutions
The first challenge is to make sure you are orientating the magnets on the track and train so that they will repel. As shown in our picture, and as we discussed earlier, the magnets need to be oriented the same way in order for the train to work. You will find out pretty quickly if the magnets are attracting! Like poles will repel each other, either north to north or south to south.
The second challenge is stability. As I've said, repelling magnets are very unstable. Magnets don't want to repel, so they will do whatever they can to attract. In order to stabilize the train, we added weight, a longer Lego at the top, and some legs on the side. You may find a different way to stabilize the train...let us know what you come up with!
In the video, we show this instability and how we remedied it.
There you have it, this is about as simple as you can get, but a fun craft and science experiment! Let us know how this works for you and share some cool pics of your train!