579. Can you suspend an object in midair with magnetism? — JA, Holmen, WI
Yes. However, you can't suspend a stationary object in midair with permanent magnets. Instead, you must either use a moving object or you must use electromagnets that can be adjusted in strength in order to balance the object. Such magnetic suspension is an important issue because people are trying to suspend trains above tracks using magnetic forces. Magnetic levitation is useful because it eliminates the friction and wear that occur between wheels and track. Some of these schemes are based on electronic feedback that turns electromagnets on or off in order to keep the train floating properly. Other schemes use electromagnetic induction to turn the metal track into a magnet so that the moving magnetic train automatically hovers above the track. I should also note that there is a wonderful toy called a Levitron that's a spinning permanent magnet that hovers above a permanent magnet in its base. The spinning behavior of the magnetic top keeps it stably suspended about an inch above the base. It's a fantastic invention.