Home Store Project Ideas Project Guide Ask An Expert Blog Careers Teachers Parents Students

The Amazing Floating Train: How Much Weight Can A Maglev Train Hold?

Difficulty
Time Required Average (6-10 days)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability This science project requires the Magic Bullet Train kit, available for purchase from the Science Buddies Store. See the Materials and Equipment list for details.
Cost Low ($20 - $50)
Safety When working with magnets, keep them away from your mouth, and away from small children and pets.

Abstract

While trains that fly through the air might still be science fiction, trains that float just above the tracks without actually touching them are real and are actually used in a few countries today. This technology is called magnetic levitation. In this physics science project, you will build your own levitating train model and test how much weight it can hold before it stops hovering above the tracks.

Objective

Test the amount of weight that a magnetic levitating train can hold.

Credits

Ben Finio, PhD, Science Buddies

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "The Amazing Floating Train: How Much Weight Can A Maglev Train Hold?" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 16 Dec. 2013. Web. 22 Oct. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Phys_p093.shtml>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2013, December 16). The Amazing Floating Train: How Much Weight Can A Maglev Train Hold?. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/Phys_p093.shtml

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Last edit date: 2013-12-16

Introduction

Have you ever seen a science fiction movie or show where vehicles hover just above the ground without touching it? Believe it or not, this technology is a reality thanks to magnets. Magnets are metals that generate a magnetic field, which has two magnetic poles: north and south. Depending on which way two magnets are facing, their magnetic fields will either attract or repel each other:

north and south magnetic poles repelling and attracting
Figure 1. Opposite magnetic poles (north and south) will always attract each other. Same magnetic poles (either two norths or two souths) will always repel each other. In this diagram, we have color-coded the magnets so the north poles are red and the south poles are blue. However, in real life, magnets can be many different colors (for example, if they are painted), and the north and south poles might look the same.

The push or pull between two magnets is called the magnetic force. The magnetic force can be used to make an object hover above the ground by pushing against its weight. An object has weight due to gravity pulling on its mass. All physical objects that take up space have mass. Gravity is what keeps us from floating off into space by pulling us down to the surface of Earth. Interestingly, gravity is different on different planets; for example, Mars has less gravity than Earth because it is smaller (which means if you were on Mars, you could jump a lot higher!). So, while an object's mass is the same on each planet, an object's weight is different on each planet.

Hovering is also referred to as "levitation," so making an object hover above the ground using magnets is called magnetic levitation, or maglev for short. Some high-speed trains actually use magnetic levitation, meaning they float above the track using magnets, and do not actually use wheels! A diagram of the model train you will build in this science project is shown in Figure 2 below.

cross section of magnetic levitation (maglev) train and track and photo
Figure 2. A diagram of the maglev train model you will build in this science project (left) next to a picture of the actual model train (right). The magnetic force between the tracks and the magnets on the train pushes up against the train's weight, which allows it to float above the tracks. Notice how we have used red and blue to indicate the north and south poles of the magnets again (like in Figure 1), but in the actual photo on the right, the magnets just look black.

The train, however, cannot carry an unlimited amount of weight; the magnets can only supply a limited amount of force depending on how strong they are. Eventually, if you add too much weight to the train, it will sink down and touch the tracks. In this physics science project, you will build your own maglev train model and see how much weight it can hold before sinking to the tracks.

Terms and Concepts

  • Magnet
  • Magnetic field
  • Magnetic pole
  • Magnetic force
  • Weight
  • Gravity
  • Mass
  • Magnetic levitation
  • Maglev
  • Average

Questions

  • What is a magnet?
  • How can magnets be used to make things levitate?
  • How much weight do you think your maglev train will hold before it sinks?

Bibliography

Here are some references about magnets:

Here are some references about mass and gravity:

Here are some references about maglev trains:

Materials and Equipment Product Kit Available

These specialty items can be purchased from the Science Buddies Store:
  • Magic Bullet Train kit (1). Kit includes:
    • 23 and 1/2 inch self sticking magnetic strips (2)
    • 5 and 7/8 inch self sticking magnetic strips (2)
    • Plastic angles (2)
    • 4 and 1/2 inch sheet metal screws (4)
    • 5/16 inch by 3/16 inch by 24 inch wood strip (1)
    • 3/4 inch by 1/2 inch by 24 inch wood strip (1)
    • 1 and 1/2 inch by 1 and 1/2 inch by 5 inch wood block (1)
    • Decal sheet
    • Ring magnets (3)
    • Wooden dowel
You will also need to gather these items:
  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Craft or wood glue
  • Optional: Sandpaper to sand the wooden block into a train shape
  • Optional: Paint and paint brushes to decorate the train
  • Adult helper to assemble the Magic Bullet Train kit
  • Plastic cups (2), 8 oz or 16 oz will work
  • Extra cup or glass to pour water
  • Measuring cup with milliliter (mL) markings or a kitchen scale that can measure grams (g)
  • Lab notebook

Order Product Supplies

Buy Kit
Project Kit: $21.95

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Experimental Procedure

  1. Follow the instructions that came with your Magic Bullet Train kit to assemble the train with the help of an adult. If you are going to shape and decorate your train, now is the time to use your sandpaper and paint. Be sure you allow some time for your paint to dry. Important: Make sure you screw the plastic angles as close as possible to the bottom of the wooden block; this will prevent the belly of the train from scraping against the top of the track.
Dowling Magnets maglev train kit assembled
Figure 3. The completed maglev train resting on its track.

If you are using sandpaper to make your wooden block into a train shape, be sure to leave a flat surface in the middle on top of the train; you will need a place on which to put the plastic cup later.

Dowling Magnets, the maker of the Magic Bullet Train kit, has a helpful instructional video:


Watch this instructional video from Dowling Magnets on how to assemble your Magic Bullet Train kit.
Watch this instructional video from Dowling Magnets on how to assemble your Magic Bullet Train kit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=G7c6U0nittw
  1. Center and place one of your plastic cups on the top of the train.
  2. Slowly pour water into the plastic cup. Keep a close eye on the bottom of the train; it should start to get closer to the track.
  3. Continue to add water until the train just barely starts to touch the track. As soon as you see part of the train touch the track, stop adding water. Keep in mind that your train might not stay perfectly level when it does finally touch the track; it could tilt to one side, with only one corner touching the track. This is okay, just stop adding water as soon as any part of the train touches the track. In your lab notebook, make sure you record how the train touches the track; is it just one corner or edge, or does the whole bottom of the train touch the track evenly?
maglev train sinking to track parallel and crooked
Figure 4. As you gradually add water to your plastic cup, your maglev train will sink closer to the tracks. Stop adding water as soon as any part of the train touches the track, even if it is just a corner or an edge.
  1. If your plastic cup is completely full and the train is still not touching the track, either add a second cup, or start over using a larger cup.
  2. Now it is time to take your measurements.
    1. If you do not have a kitchen scale, pour the water from the plastic cup into the glass measuring cup and measure its volume in milliliters (mL). One milliliter of water has a mass of one gram (1g), so you can use the water's volume to figure out its mass. For example, 10 milliliters (mL) of water has a mass of 10 grams (g).
    2. If you have a kitchen scale, take the plastic cup off the train (do not pour the water out!) and use it to measure the mass of the plastic cup, including the water.
  3. Once you have determined the mass of the water, record this value in your lab notebook. Also record which part of the train touches the track (corner only, edge only, entire bottom of train) Note: If you are not using a kitchen scale, your calculation will not include the mass of the plastic cup, but you can assume the water itself is much heavier than the cup, so this is okay as an approximation. You can use a data table like this one to record your results:
Trial Mass of water (grams [g]) Part of train that touched track first
1   
2   
3   
4   
5   
Table 1. An example data table for you to keep track of your results.
  1. Repeat steps 2–7 four more times, starting with an empty plastic cup on top of the train each time. Be sure to record your measurements and observations in your lab notebook.
  2. Now, analyze your results. Have an adult help you calculate the average mass of water for your five trials. Scientists like to calculate the average of their results because small changes in each trial mean you might not get exactly the same number each time.
    1. How much water did your train support on average?
    2. Did the same part of the train always touch the track first, or were your results different for each trial?

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.


Variations

  • The Magic Bullet Train kit contains several ring magnets. Can you use these magnets to make a magnetic "brake" at the end of your track, to prevent the train from falling off (for example, if you give the train a good push, or tilt the track so it slides downhill)? Hint: You should use a sturdy piece of cardboard or another block of wood to form a "stop" at the end of the track, then attach one magnet to the train and one to the stop.

Share your story with Science Buddies!

I did this project I Did This Project! Please log in and let us know how things went.

Ask an Expert

The Ask an Expert Forum is intended to be a place where students can go to find answers to science questions that they have been unable to find using other resources. If you have specific questions about your science fair project or science fair, our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Ask an Expert

Contact Us

If you have purchased a kit for this project from Science Buddies, we are pleased to answer your questions.

In your email, please follow these instructions:
  1. What is your Science Buddies kit order number?
  2. Please describe how you need help as thoroughly as possible:

    Examples

    Good Question I'm trying to do Experimental Procedure step #5, "Scrape the insulation from the wire. . ." How do I know when I've scraped enough?
    Good Question I'm at Experimental Procedure step #7, "Move the magnet back and forth . . ." and the LED is not lighting up.
    Bad Question I don't understand the instructions. Help!
    Good Question I am purchasing my materials. Can I substitute a 1N34 diode for the 1N25 diode called for in the material list?
    Bad Question Can I use a different part?

Contact Us

Related Links

If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:

Female physicist working

Physicist

Physicists have a big goal in mind—to understand the nature of the entire universe and everything in it! To reach that goal, they observe and measure natural events seen on Earth and in the universe, and then develop theories, using mathematics, to explain why those phenomena occur. Physicists take on the challenge of explaining events that happen on the grandest scale imaginable to those that happen at the level of the smallest atomic particles. Their theories are then applied to human-scale projects to bring people new technologies, like computers, lasers, and fusion energy. Read more
physics teacher helping student model a nanostructure

Physics Teacher

Our universe is full of matter and energy, and how that matter and energy moves and interacts in space and time is the subject of physics. Physics teachers spend their days showing and explaining the marvels of physics, which underlies all the other science subjects, including biology, chemistry, Earth and space science. Their work serves to develop the next generation of scientists and engineers, including all healthcare professionals. They also help all students better understand their physical world and how it works in their everyday lives, as well as how to become better citizens by understanding the process of scientific research. Read more

Looking for more science fun?

Try one of our science activities for quick, anytime science explorations. The perfect thing to liven up a rainy day, school vacation, or moment of boredom.

Find an Activity