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How the SC Maglev works...and Marco the Maglev


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How does the Super Conducting Magnetically Levitating Train Work (IE: SC MAGLEV)

Levitation due to super conductivity:

March 31st/April 1st was the engineering open house at the University of Illinois Champaign/Urbana. In a bit of irony, a pair of University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate students (one wasn’t even an engineer) ended up at the UIUC’s engineering open house presenting on the superconducting maglev. The question that came up over and over is how the superconductive maglev levitates (or "floats" as one person argued).

Well, in simple terms the train on invisible tracks. These tracks keep the train in the exact position of 3.9 inches above the roadbed. But how does it do this? Well, first when a superconducting material is chilled to -320 degrees F, the magnetic fields no longer pass through the material. Instead, the magnetic fields flow around, locking the superconducting material in position.

The magnetic field is invisible, but think of it as pushing from the bottom, top, and sides all at once. It essentially creates a tunnel that the material slides through (assuming it is a row of magnets). This is why a chilled superconducting material will race around a circle. The magnetic fields created by the magnets create an invisible tunnel above the track that the material races through. Of course, the best part about the tunnel is there is no friction (except for air resistance). This invisible tunnel is called “levitation”, and is what makes superconductivity so special.

The challenge is superconductivity only takes place at supercooled temperatures. So, a lot of energy is needed to cool the material, but there is a belief that someday we might discover superconducting material at normal air temperatures.

How Does the SC Maglev Work?

Maryland GovPics, Wikimedia Commons

The Yamanishi Test Center outside of Tokyo Japan is Central Japan Railways’ newest train technology. Going by the name “Chuo Shinkansen” (which means “central new trunk line”), this train uses superconducting magnetic levitation for both lifting and propulsion. While there are magnetically levitating trains in China and South Korea, the Chuo Shinkansen is very different. While most maglevs use electric magnetics to levitate, SC Maglevs use superconducting magnets to levitate and propulsion.

How the SC maglev works on the train by superconducting materials that are supercooled to -450 degrees F. These superconductors can be seen on the bottom of the trains where they stick out of the train body. Liquid helium cools the coils inside these devices to -450 degrees Fahrenheit, and then a charge is introduced into the coils. Due to superconductivity once the energy is introduced into the coils, the coils stay energized as long as they are kept cold. This is what is funny, energy is not needed to keep the coils energized. Energy is needed to keep the coils cold!

Jerine Victor, Wikimedia Commons

Then in the track are two types of devices that interact with the superconducting coils on the train. The first is propulsion magnets. These are electric magnets that push and pull on the train. They simply act in a way that moves the train forward and backward like on traditional maglev trains. However on the sides of the tracks are also figure 8 loops. These devices are not energized but interact with the superconducting materials on the train. They are designed so that if the train is in the perfect location on the track, all the forces balance out. However, if the train drifts lower a magnetic field is created in the lower part of the coil that pushes the train up. If the train goes too high, a magnetic field is created that pushes the train down. These figure 8 loops are connected to the loops on the other side of the track so if the train tries to go right, the loops push the train back to the center; or if the train goes to the left the loops push the train back to the right. Note: The train has to be moving for all of this to be happening. That is why below approximately 100 mph the train rides on aircraft wheels, but then lifts into the magnetic fields after a certain speed.

All of these forces work together to keep the superconducting train in the perfect position centered on invisible tracks, and that is what passengers going from Tokyo to Nagoya will be able to ride in perfect safety at 311 mph in 2028.

For more background on how the SC Maglev works, here is a great video from Lesics' Youtube Channel that explains it all:


Tom Scott Caught up to the SC Maglev

For those who don't know Tom Scott, he is a youtuber who got his start in 2006. Since then he has been known for his videos on everything from sending garlic bread to the edge of space, to jumping mail at Lake Geneva. However his latest video was all about the SC Maglev at the Yamanishi Test Center outside Tokyo, Japan:


We asked ChatGPT:

Write a fun and energetic bedtime story style about a young maglev train named Marco and what he discovers on the Island of Sodor.

[Sodor is the island of Thomas the Tank Enginer]

Once upon a time, on the Island of Sodor, there was a spirited young maglev train named Marco. He was fast, sleek, and always in a hurry. Marco loved to race around the island, zipping past the other trains and showing off his speed.

One day, as Marco was whizzing along the tracks, he saw something he'd never seen before. It was a young train named Jessie, but she didn't look like any train Marco had ever seen. She was smaller and slower, with a different kind of technology that Marco had never encountered before.

Curious, Marco slowed down and pulled up next to Jessie. "Who are you?" he asked.

"I'm Jessie the JetTrain," she replied. "I'm not like you. I don't have the same technology as you maglev trains. I'm a jet-powered train, but I'm not as fast as you."

Marco couldn't believe what he was hearing. He'd always thought that speed was the most important thing. But as he looked at Jessie, he realized that there was something special about her. She had a bright smile and a friendly personality that drew him in.

"Hey, want to race?" Marco asked, eager to prove his speed.

Jessie chuckled. "I don't think I can keep up with you," she said. "But I'll race you anyway."

And so, they were off. Marco zoomed ahead, leaving Jessie far behind. But as he glanced back, he saw that she was still chugging along, determined to finish the race.

When they reached the finish line, Marco was surprised to see that Jessie wasn't far behind at all. In fact, she was only a few seconds slower than him.

"You did great," Marco said, impressed.

Jessie grinned. "Thanks. I may not be as fast as you, but I still have my own strengths."

And from that day on, Marco and Jessie became great friends. They explored the island together, and Marco learned that it wasn't just about speed. It was about meeting new people, trying new things, and accepting others who are different.

And so, Marco the Maglev and Jessie the JetTrain proved that sometimes, the most important journeys aren't about getting there the fastest, but about the friends you make along the way.

...and the story will continue next week


The Faster Badger is produced by students at the University of Wiscosin-Madison to help break through the misconceptions of high speed rail and high speed transportation. This blog is for educational purposes only and all opinions presented are of the students.

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