Magnetic levitation — maglev, for short — sounds like something out of science fiction. But it's been a reality for a while now; you might have noticed it if you keep a keen eye on trains and transportation.
But maglev technology can do more than make the trains run on time. The possibilities for application go far beyond transportation. It could change lives — and it's already saving some.
What is maglev?
You've heard the phrase "opposites attract." The inverse is what powers maglev technology.
When opposite poles of a magnet — a north pole and a south pole — are placed near each other, their electromagnetic forces pull the magnets together. But when poles of the same kind — two south poles, say — are placed near each other, they repel. Therefore, an object whose base made of magnets from one pole will effectively levitate above a surface made of magnets of the same polarity.
Maglev technology is highly advanced and has various applications, but it's most notable for its chief offering: because the moving object never touches the stationary one, wear and tear caused by friction is greatly reduced. Because there's less friction, maglev systems are much more efficient; this reduces maintenance costs and lengthens the lifespan of a system or machine.
Maglev, past and present
Maglev technology was first mentioned in 1726, when author Jonathan Swift, in writing "Gulliver's Travels," described the island of Laputa as a landmass capable of floating several kilometres in the air by using magnets to levitate.
But maglev technology isn't a fanciful flight of fiction. In the rail transportation industry, it's a reality; as it is in space travel and exploration. Trains that use magnetic levitation to hover above the track, however, are faster ( up to 483 km/hr). StarTram is a proposal for a maglev space launch system at NASA design to carry cargo and, potentially, people in to space.
Bringing the future to healthcare
Maglev has other applications as well — and it has great potential for use in healthcare. In 2010, a group of medical researchers at the University of Texas and Rice University used magnetic levitation to develop three-dimensional tumour models. Researchers injected magnetic iron oxide and gold nanoparticles to cancer cells, added the cells to a Petri dish, then installed a coin-sized magnet on top of the dish. The magnet lifted the cells, and as they grew, suspended in the liquid, they resembled tumour cells. Researchers created models from the cells in the hope that one day they could lead to better cancer treatments.
Recognizing the potential for maglev technology, Abbott has made strides of its own in developing a left ventricular assist device for heart failure patients who need haemodynamic support. The LVAD's outcomes are made possible by Full MagLev™ Flow Technology, which improves the blood flow in a pump using full magnetic levitation to reduce the trauma to blood passing through the system. As a result, complications are minimised, improving the patient's quality of life.
Maglev undoubtedly has a future in society — and its potential to be applied to healthcare seems limitless.
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