Maglev Train Science Project

Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this project we're going to be building a model train that floats instead of rests on tracks, called a maglev train. By the end of the project you'll understand how forces interact to change the motion of an object.

Introduction

Goal: Build a model Maglev train
Age: Middle school and up
Safety Concerns: Hot glue can burn you, be careful when handling it. Also, neodymium magnets are very strong; keep them away from electronics.
Time: Two hours

Have you ever taken a train? Most of us that have are familiar with the rumbling sound as the train thuds over the metal tracks. Trains are usually faster than taking a bus, but there's a limit to how fast they can go, since friction between the tracks and the train will always decrease its speed.

What if you could eliminate that friction? That's exactly what Maglev trains do. 'Maglev' is short for 'magnetic levitation'. These incredible trains use magnets to allow the train to hover just above the tracks, eliminating friction and allowing them to travel at speeds of up to 375 miles per hour.

A high speed Maglev train in Shanghai
Maglev train

Maglev trains use superconductor magnets that are cooled to incredibly low temperatures to produce intense magnetic fields used to drive the train forward and keep it hovering off of the tracks. To learn more about superconductors, you can look at this lesson: The Use of Superconductors & Magnetic Levitation in Transportation.

Today, we're going to build a tiny model of a Maglev train using neodymium magnets.

Materials

  • One long piece of cardboard or plywood about 2' long and 4'' wide.
  • Two pieces of plexiglass that's the same length as your base, as tall as your train car, and about 0.25'' thick
  • One small wooden box for your train, 3'' wide and about 4'' long.
  • Hot glue
  • Craft glue
  • 28 neodymium bar magnets of about 2'' in length and 0.4'' in width

Steps

1. First use the craft glue to attach the neodymium magnets to the train tracks. Measure 0.5'' in from the edge of the cardboard and line your bar magnets up in a row, all with the same pole facing up. You should use about 12 magnets per side.

2. Repeat step 2 for the other side of the track.

Safety Tip!! Use caution when applying hot glue. It can burn your skin.

3. Next, attach the plexiglass sheets to the sides of your base just a few centimeters apart from the magnets using hot glue. They should nearly touch the magnet strips.

Safety Tip!! Neodymium magnets are extremely strong. Keep them away from electronics.

4. Next, glue two magnets to each long edge of the train car using craft glue. Ensure that the pole facing up is the same as the pole facing up on the track so that they repel each other.

Cross sectional diagram of the maglev train construction
construction

5. Now, place your train car on the tracks and watch it levitate!

Troubleshooting

If your train is tipping over, the plexiglass might be spaced too far out. The magnets will repel each other with such force that they will tip the train over if the plexiglass is not there to support it. Similarly if the plastic is too far apart the train might shift to the right or left, causing the magnets to attract instead of repel.

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