Inspiring hopes for the mass-production of Back-to-the-Future-style hoverboards and flying carpets, Boaz Almog demonstrates the phenomenon of quantum locking or quantum levitation. The frictionless travel of a superconductor disk locked in space above a magnetic rail without the expenditure of energy.
What is a super conductor?
An element, alloy or compound that can conduct electricity without resistance when it is brought below a certain temperature.1 A superconductor is also able to expel magnetic fields from the interior of the superconductor by circulating the currents as seen in Fig. 1. Figure 1: Levitation Field Lines.2
The disk on the left in Fig. 1 shows the penetration of the magnetic field through the disk at room temperature. The disk on the right shows what happens when the superconducting material is cooled below a characteristic critical temperature.3
Superconduction is the phenomenon of zero electrical resistance and the expulsion of magnetic fields from the interior of the disk.4 Electrical resistance or friction results in the loss of energy through the collision of atoms and electrons inside a material as an electrical current passes through. Within the superconductor the current is met with no resistance, therefore, once the disk is set in motion, the electrical current will continue to flow in a closed loop. The disk should be able to travel in perpetual motion.5
What does this mean for design?
Image 2: Marty McFLy on his Hoverboard in Back to the Future.6
It is easy to envision a new range of travel methods, cars trains and the like, there are numerous possibilities and hopes for a greener future emerging through the understanding of this phenomenon. Almog states that a superconductor disk can levitate ‘more than 70,000 times its own weight,’4 yet the key issue is that it takes a lot of energy to keep the superconductor cool. Scientists continue to experiment with different materials that achieve superconductivity at higher temperatures, if more efficient cooling methods are created or a room-temperature superconductor is generated. This could provide many new opportunities for Architecture and design and lead to great changes to the nature of the built environment.
The phenomenon of quantum levitation may form the basis of a technology for cities suspended above the Earth, a notion explored by many, including architect Lebbeus Woods through his design for Aerial Living Laboratories in which he proposed an architecture that harnesses the power of the magnetosphere and is no longer tethered to one spot on the Earth, a nomadic architecture no longer bound by its most compelling constraint; gravity.
Image 3: Aero Living Laboratories: Lebbeus Woods. 6
In the final image, architect Joseph Cory illustrates what the built environment might become as he speculates that “By using magnetic fields as a construction material there can be infinite vertical and horizontal expansions due to the final liberation from gravity.”8
Image 4: Floating Electro-Magnetic Skyscrapers, Joseph Cory. 7
1 http://www.superconductors.org (Accessed 14.08.2014)
2 http://www.nature.com (Accessed 14.08.2014)
3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superconductivity (Accessed 14.08.2014)
4 https://www.ted.com (Accessed 14.08.2014)
5 http://metro.co.uk (Accessed 14.08.2014)
6 http://seanyb-art.blogspot.com.au (Accessed 14.08.2014)
7 http://inhabitat.com (Accessed 14.08.2014)