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Materials

A maglev construction kit

By exploiting a magnetic levitational effect, researchers have come up with a way to assemble small parts in three dimensions.

The system devised by George Whitesides at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and his colleagues consists of neodymium iron boride magnets placed above and below a container filled with a fluid that is weakly magnetic when in a magnetic field. Suspended in the liquid are millimetre-sized objects. The average density of an object determines the height at which it levitates and the variation of density within it affects its tilt. Changing the magnetic field alters the objects' position and orientation. Draining the fluid allows gravity to pull the pieces together.

The authors used their method to build multilayered structures out of chunks of polymer (pictured). They say that the technique could be used to assemble soft or fragile pieces, minimizing mechanical contact and friction.

Credit: K. MIRICA

Adv. Mater. 23, 4134–4140 (2011)

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A maglev construction kit. Nature 478, 8 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/478008a

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