The Meissner effect, also known as quantum levitation, is the expulsion of a magnetic field from a superconductor during its transition to the superconducting state. The German physicists Walther Meissner and Robert Ochsenfeld discovered this phenomenon in 1933 by measuring the magnetic field distribution outside superconducting tin and lead samples. Continue reading for some fascinating videos of the effect.
5. Levitating Train
The discovery of the Meissner effect led to the phenomenological theory of superconductivity by Fritz and Heinz London in 1935. This theory explained resistanceless transport and the Meissner effect, and allowed the first theoretical predictions for superconductivity to be made.
In a weak applied field, a superconductor “expels” nearly all magnetic flux. It does this by setting up electric currents near its surface. The magnetic field of these surface currents cancels the applied magnetic field within the bulk of the superconductor. As the field expulsion, or cancellation, does not change with time, the currents producing this effect (called persistent currents) do not decay with time. Therefore the conductivity can be thought of as infinite: a superconductor.
3. Levitating Plate
Any perfect conductor will prevent any change to magnetic flux passing through its surface due to ordinary electromagnetic induction at zero resistance. The Meissner effect is distinct from this: when an ordinary conductor is cooled so that it makes the transition to a superconducting state in the presence of a constant applied magnetic field, the magnetic flux is expelled during the transition.
2. Triple Quantum Levitation
This effect cannot be explained by infinite conductivity alone. Its explanation is more complex and was first given in the London equations by the brothers Fritz and Heinz London.
1. Wipeout Track
It should thus be noted that the placement and subsequent levitation of a magnet above an already superconducting material does not demonstrate the Meissner effect, while an initially stationary magnet later being repelled by a superconductor as it is cooled through its critical temperature does.