Magnetic levitation, maglev, or magnetic suspension is a method by which an object is suspended with no support other than magnetic fields. Magnetic pressure is used to counteract the effects of gravity and any other accelerations.
Fix a cup hook onto one small piece of wood.
Fix a neodymium magnet into the other small piece of wood.
Fix a screw into each corner of the large piece of wood.
Attach both small pieces of wood to the larger piece using the inserted screws to make a frame.
Tie the piece of thread to the paper clip.
Glue the paper clip (now with thread attached) to the back of an astronaut image, then glue on the other astronaut image so the paper clip is hidden between the two.
Attach the thread to the cup hook and adjust so that the astronaut does not reach the opposite end of the frame. (Cut away any extra thread.)
Ask students to predict what will happen when you release the astronaut, and why they think so. (Will it fall or float or something else?) Make sure students specifically discuss the idea of gravity as the reason the astronaut might fall, and be sure to ask students what gravity is.
Then release the astronaut and watch it levitate!
Beyond building your levitating astronaut:
Now that you have built your astronaut, prompt students to observe it carefully, ask questions about the phenomenon they are observing, and experiment with the apparatus. For example, they could ask why the astronaut levitates, or what would happen if they change the orientation of the astronaut, or if they used different materials. You can break students into small groups to investigate these questions together, and share with them information about magnetism and gravity from the “Background Information” section.
You can also prompt students to discuss the idea of building models. Suggested discussion points:
- What is a model? Why is it useful to build models?
- What is the goal of this model of an astronaut?
- What are the strengths of this model? (How well does it represent reality?)
- What are limitations?
- How could the model be improved?