Experience horizontal levitation for the first time with The Halitron™. This is a fascinating gadget for anyone interested in the laws of physics.

Spin a top within a carefully calculated magnetic field and watch it ‘float’ in mid-air. The Halitron™ is not only truly mesmerising, but it also lets you experiment and explain fundamental space and physics theories.

The Halitron™ uses magnetic technology which allows low frictional horizontal axis spinning. It consists of a small magnetic spinning top and a mathematically calculated permanent magnet array. The opposing magnetic polarity of the spinning top to the magnet array provides the basis ‘lift’ against gravity. The interaction of these magnetic fields creates a specific ‘trap’ and the principle of the conservation of angular momentum ‘holds’ the spinning top in position.

Halitron Magnetic Fields

Magnetic levitation is a method of suspending an object with no support other than magnetic fields. Magnetic force is used to counteract the effects of the gravitational and any other accelerations. This is the first time that an object has been spun horizontally in a passive system without using an electro-magnetic drive.

With the support of the Kickstarter community, we are hoping to take the design to the next stage where it can be flatpacked and shipped out to customers for home assembly so that you too can enjoy hours of experimentation with the Halitron. We are planning to design a gadget that looks great on anyone’s desk and will really get people talking!

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The Science

The Science of Precession

Precession is a universal phenomenon. Even our Earth is precessing, taking 26,000 years for the celestial pole to complete the circle! All spinning bodies in our Universe demonstrate the science of precession, whether very large (galaxies like the Milky Way) or tiny (protons in your body). The precession of a spignet is at first hardly visible, but as the spignet slows and the precession amplitude increases, the circles grow. The precession frequency decreases until just before the spignet escapes when you can actually see the circles form.

Spin Precession low

A less universal variation on the theme of precession is ‘nutation’, also sometimes called ‘free body precession’. You can cause the spignet to nutate in a variety of ways: by blowing it gently/ passing a small magnet quickly in its vicinity/ deliberately launching the spignet ‘badly’. Using a laser, you can create some beautiful ‘Lissajous-like’ figures, similar to the figures created in disco laser-shows. At first you will see up to ten Lissajous-like loops, but as the spignet slows the number of loops decreases, until there are only two, then one just before it escapes.

Halitron Precession logo

Halitron Precession 02 logo

The Halitron™ and its Magnetic Traps

The following video talks you through how the magnets in the Halitron™ are set up to ‘trap’ the spignet in free space while it precesses:

The Halitron™ and Space Science

The Halitron™ relies on ‘conservation of energy’ to keep going. It also relies on ‘conservation of angular momentum’. Our Earth has been spinning for three and a half billion years, gradually giving its energy and momentum to the moon and the magma beneath our feet. Our own galaxy has been spinning its milky way for nearly ten billion years. Space craft can spin, precess and nutate out of control, sloshing their fuel around and any unfortunate astronauts on board. The development of thrusters tamed this motion and now we are about to capture meteorites to get at their expensive metals, understanding these motions will become increasingly important.

The Halitron™ and Particle Physics

The Halitron™ is a magnetic particle trap, one that magnetically traps the thousands of trillions of trillion atoms making up your spignet. In the ‘particle physics’ being conducted at world famous laboratories particle traps are one of the most important activities. In some experiments single particles are trapped. The ALPHA experiment at CERN is trapping anti-protons and positrons (anti-electrons) to generate the first ever trapped atoms of anti-matter. Part of the trapping is magnetic. ALPHA and Halitron™ have one feature in common: the energy of the trapped particles or of the spignet must not be too high.

The Halitron and MRI

MRI scanners rely on a physics phenomenon called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) which detects precession. When the frequency of the radio waves resonates with the protons in the water molecules of your body, a signal is generated which tells the system which chemical substances inhabit your every cubic millimetre.

The History

Magnetic levitation is a method of suspending an object with no support other than magnetic fields. Magnetic force is used to counteract the effects of the gravitational and any other accelerations. Roy Harrigan discovered this amazing phenomenon back in 1983 with a vertical magnetic top, disproving Samuel Earnshaw’s historically proven theory that it is impossible to levitate a stationary object in steady magnetic fields produced by permanent magnets.   So how is this possible?

Sir Michael Berry gave the first complete answer in a Proceedings of the Royal Society paper in 1996. It is neither the gyroscopic effect of its spin alone, nor the magnetic ‘potential well’ created by the ring magnet. Instead the vertical axis Levitron is stabilized by its magnetic precession in a very weak and spatially very limited effective potential well. A later paper in the American Journal of Physics explains why the Levitron must spin at a speed that is ‘neither too fast, nor too slow’. Too fast and the spignet precesses too slow to avoid escaping; too slow and the spignet wobbles out of control (like a toy spinning top when it is reaching the end of its spin).

The Halitron™ is slightly more complicated than this.  The spignet is confined in two traps rather than one. A strong horizontal field created by the Big ‘V’ magnets creates the same precessional ‘micro-trap’ as with the vertical axis device, but there is an additional ‘macro-trap’’ which gives it transverse lift: the spignet sits and precesses in a gentle field-line hollow.

About Me

Max Michaelis

My name is Max Michaelis,  I’ve dedicated most of my life to experimenting with lasers and magnets, and making their associated phenomena more accessible. During my career at the University of Natal in South Africa I created a specialist group that produced such exciting work on magnets and lasers that it was featured on the front cover of the science journal, Nature.

I completed my doctorate and worked in Engineering Science at Oxford University.  I’m now retired and living in Oxfordshire, where I spend much of my time experimenting with magnets and creating visually stunning experiments. The Halitron™ is outcome of one of these experiments, and now I’m trying to share my invention with as many people as possible and have launched a Kickstarter campaign to get further funding for the Halitron™ device.

Ordering

The Halitron™ is now available for pre-order on Kickstarter until December 15th 2014.

Please visit our Kickstarter page to place your order today.

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