Heat Flow Can Be Used To Levitate Objects, Demonstrate Scientists


While levitation of certain specific types of material has been achieved earlier, a pair of undergraduate physics students from the University of Chicago have used heat flow to levitate objects.

The duo — Frankie Fung and Mykhaylo Usatyuk — was able to lift various types of objects using the temperature gradient. The method used by the enterprising pair is unusual as normally, levitation techniques are reliant on magnetic fields or light.

The two University of Chicago undergraduates, along with a team of researchers revealed how to levitate objects ranging from ceramic to lint strands to polyethylene spheres and ice particles.

The experiment was conducted at Professor Chen Chin's ultracold lab in the Gordon Center for Integrative Service.

How The Experiment Was Conducted

The experiment was conducted using two plates. At the bottom of the chamber was a copper plate which was maintained at room temperature. A stainless steel nitrogen filled cylinder was kept at a negative temperature of 300 degrees and was used as the top plate.

This resulted in the upward movement of the heat from the copper plate to the stainless steel plate, which in turn induced the particles to levitate off the surface for an indefinite period.

"The large temperature gradient leads to a force that balances gravity and results in stable levitation," explained Fung.

The plates were designed geometrically and followed an aesthetic ratio. They had vertical spacing which allowed the flow of warm air, thus catching the uplifted objects whenever they were trying to move away from the center.

This movement due to difference in temperature gradient is what the researchers are calling "thermophoresis." They believe that this finding could in the future lead to levitation of other objects as well.

The method used by the scientists also resulted in more stable and longer levitation when compared with classic methods. The levitation through heat flow lasted for over 60 minutes, whereas traditional methods of levitation result in the materials being airborne for a couple of minutes.

Moreover, the team was not only able to levitate materials vertically — as demonstrated by traditional methods — but also radially.

What This Could Lead To

According to the researchers, the apparatus used allowed the users to investigate the progress of biological, chemical, and astrophysical systems in a microgravity environment. This process has been used in aerosol precipitators, during the manufacture of optical fibers through vacuum deposition process and nuclear reactor safety.

The experiment's findings are also being hailed as groundbreaking as it offers a method of manipulating tiny objects without physically contaminating them.

Levitation may seem like a dream to the common man but studies like these prove just how far science has come to make levitation a reality. It is only a matter of time before the technology becomes a part of our daily lives. 

The research was published in the Jan. 20 issue of Applied Physics Letters.

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