When I was in 10th grade, my teammate and I designed what we thought was pretty clever: a superconductor roller coaster, which we imagined would float effortlessly above its magnetic track. Of course, our roller coaster was only designed on paper, because yttrium barium copper oxide ceramics had only just been discovered by top scientists.

Did you notice how it was smoking in the video? That’s because it was so cold! The usual problem with superconductors is that they need to be incredibly cold in order to exhibit superconductive properties.  Yttrium barium copper oxide (YBa2Cu3O7) was the first compound that used liquid nitrogen for cooling, making superconductors a lot less expensive to work with – you no longer needed a cryogenic lab in order to levitate objects above a magnet.

Recently, scientists have found a way to make an amazing superconductor by taking a single crystal sapphire wafer and coating it with a thin (~1µm thick) ceramic material (yttrium barium copper oxide). Normally, the ceramic layer has no interesting magnetic or electrical properties, but that’s when you’re looking at it at room temperature. If you cool this material below -185ºC (-301ºF), it turns out that the ceramic material becomes a superconductor, meaning that it conducts electricity without resistance, with no energy loss. Zero. That’s what makes it a ‘superconductor’.

To further understand superconductivity, it’s helpful to understand what normally happens to electricity as it flows through a wire. As you may know, energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can be changed from one form to another.

In the case of wires, some of the electrical energy is changed to heat energy. If you’ve ever touched a wire that had been in use for a while, and discovered it was hot, you’ve experienced this. The heat energy is a waste. It simply means that less electricity gets to its final destination.

This is why superconductivity is so cool (no pun intended.) By cooling things down to temperatures near absolute zero, which is as low as temperatures can get, you can create a phenomenon where electricity flows without having any of it converted to heat.

Why do superconductors float above magnets?

Scientists also figured out that superconductors and magnetic field really do not like each other. The Meissner effect happens when a superconductor expels all its magnetic fields from inside.

However, if you make your superconductor thin enough, you can get the magnetic field to penetrate in discrete quantities (this is real quantum physics now) called flux tubes (the blue lines that go through the disc).

Inside each of the magnetic flux tubes, the superconductivity is destroyed, but the superconductor tries to keep the magnetic tubes pinned in weak areas and any movement of the superconductor itself (like if you pushed it) causes the flux tubes to move, and this is what traps (or locks) the superconductor in midair.

If you’d like to experiment with superconductors yourself, check out this information.

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52 Responses to “Mystifying Superconductor Roller Coaster”

  1. No, it is not safe to touch liquid nitrogen. Doing so would cause severe injury within seconds.

  2. youngsurrender says:

    Hi Mrs. Aurora,
    I wanted to ask can you touch liquid nitrogen? I watched another one of your videos (I think it was on matter) and you were teaching how sometimes a chemical needs to become warmer to freeze. So is that why steam was coming off of the sapphire with nitrogen on it? And is that steam like dry ice? Thanks, Sasha 14

  3. Wisdomseeker12000 says:

    Yes, I’m grateful for the information. I also had a liquid nitrogen engine in mind for fueling propulsion.

  4. Absolutely! You can probably get your setup working for about $5,000. You’re going to need to learn how to handle liquid nitrogen, and making the track is going to take work, but you can do it! I am assuming you’re interested in making something like this:


    Notice how you can contact the lab in the credits after, or in the following links, in the references after the articles. Those are the people you want to reach out to.

    For LN2 training, find a local college professor or lab technician who can train you properly and show you how to handle everything correctly.

    Here are some reference for you – feel free ton read them over and contact the author to help you get started.

  5. Wisdomseeker12000 says:

    So the information on doing this experiment for yourself stresses contacting professional advice. Do you have any recommendations for doing that? I am a senior high schooler, and I understand it posses a serious danger. But if I could put in place the right safety precautions I would like to try this.

  6. Linda Griffith says:


  7. I wouldn’t recommend touching it without protection for your hands! Severe cold surfaces can damage the skin.

    Regarding the flux tubes: they are used in flux pinning (also known as quantum locking). Flux pinning is the process that makes quantum levitation possible. Superconductors repel all magnetic forces due to the Meissner effect. However, when an object (like the puck) is used as a superconductor and suspended above a magnetic field, some of the magnetism will penetrate the superconductor object. This happens in very tiny areas (it’s quantum physics, after all!)

    The flux tubes are those tiny areas where magnetic forces come through the semiconductor in minuscule little channels. They allow a three dimensional lock down of the magnetic field. So if you were to tilt the semiconductor, it would stay tilted (locked) because the material of the superconductor itself works to stop any motion in relation to the magnetic field. The locking process keeps the superconductor object a fixed distance from the magnetic track AND it keeps it from simply floating away.

    Whew! I hope this helps to clarify.

  8. Delia Ayer says:

    I don’t exactly understand about the flux tubes and how it all works. What are flux tubes anyway? And how are they touching it? I thought it was super cold?

  9. Sharon Wu says:


  10. Bethany Carter says:

    Hi! I’m Bethany’s son, Tyler. I really want to understand what the blue lines mean. Is the puck quantum locked? And if so what does that even mean? Or is that just a term I heard from some science fiction story?

  11. The temperature on the Moon goes from 253 Fahrenheit (123 Celsius) during the day, and -387 Fahrenheit (-233 Celsius) at night. The lack of atmosphere accounts for this huge swing!

  12. Linda Beckwith says:

    How cold does the moon get?

  13. Loreena Baker says:

    can you make a hover board by making this on a bigger scale or make a roller coaster on the moon because it is really cold out there???

  14. Good question – they slanted the table up a little so that it the disks would stop, reverse direction, and stay in only half of the circular track so that they would stay in the video frame so you could see multiple passes of the two disks.

  15. Terri Cleary says:

    from Xander:
    In the last video when they do ‘double’ levitation, why do the disks reverse directions after traveling a short distance?

  16. You’re right on both counts. Up until recently, scientists have generally thought that the electron is as small as you can go, so they called it an ‘elementary particle’. However, about two decades ago, a team of scientists thought that it could be split into three parts: the bit containing the charge, another bit containing the spin, and a third bit that holds the orbital information. And fifteen years ago, scientists at Stanford University did manage to separate the charge (called the ‘holon’) from the rest of it. And in April 2012, scientists fired an x-ray laser (a high energy beam of x-ray photons) into Strontium Cuprate (Sr2CuO3) and observed the first ever spinion. They haven’t found all three at once (the holon, spinion, and orbiton), but that’s their next step. And note that these particles don’t exist outside the electron, meaning that you can store them in a box on a shelf. Once the electron disappears, so do the particles. That’s one reason they are incredibly difficult to observe!

    It’s interesting that you posted this in the superconductor experiment, because that’s exactly what problem this discovery solves. There’s a problem with high temperature superconductivity (remember that superconductivity is the flow of electric current through a material with zero resistance) in that nobody knew how or why some materials can superconduct at higher temperatures than others, because they couldn’t be sure exactly what condecuts the current through the material… and now scientists know that orbitons are the key to understanding this. You can read the technical paper about it here.

  17. Willy Nelville says:

    Aurora you said that the electron can’t be split into parts. But didn’t scientists do that recently?

  18. Annette Perrochet says:

    Hello, Kaelen again, I’ve been working on my superconductro train idea. Now that this isn’t as new, I think it might work.

  19. I think these are on the order of $3,000 and up to purchase just the crystal as they are grown in a very special way. The reason that it smokes is that it is dipped in liquid nitrogen to keep it cool. The insulation packing helps with slowing down the sublimation (going from a solid to a gas), but not much, as liquid N2 is very, very cold! ‘Coated with superconductor’ is the material on the outside that has the properties you want when supercooled… this can be a wide variety of materials, so it really varies! I did give you a link to purchase a very small piece that will work if you have access to someone with expertise in handling liquid N2… did you find the link?

  20. Annie Heenan Labrecque says:

    I like the superconductor roller coaster but I have some questions.
    First is sapphire crystal available to buy?
    Second what is superconductor? ( in your third video it says “coated with superconductor”.) Is it a liquid? Or do you make it ?


  21. Roger Fanti says:

    cool. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. Kaelen Davis says:

    What is the material used as a superconductor? I’m working on a version of it that can be used as a train for humans, and I need to know all the materials.

  23. Both… and it’s still a ‘new’ technology. You do need liquid nitrogen to get it cold enough, which is NOT for everyday folks.

  24. Louise Bingham says:

    i was wondering if these things are hard to find or just freaking expensive and thats why not a lot of people have them

  25. Lydia Fancher says:

    if we shrunk ourselfs and had cloths made out of thermal stuff to keep up warm then WE COULD use those as transportation…

  26. Mary Beth Niksic says:

    It reminds me of the Jetsons and their little flying machines. Could we ever use the Earth’s magnetic field to create a new form of transportation?

  27. wurzel parsons-keir says:

    I want to make one,I WANNA MAKE ONE=-O

  28. Kaelen Davis says:

    I forgot to add that the enormous cost of building a magnetic track might throw my idea a little of balance. And you would have to supply oxygen. And create the vaccum chamber.

  29. Kaelen Davis says:

    If you could fit those on a train in a vaccum chamber, and provide some form of external propultion, then you would have a very efficient, eco-friendly train.

  30. No, they are invisible, just like magnetic field lines are. And yes, that disk is SUPER cold! I would use gloves, NOT my hands if that were me!!

  31. How much energy would we save if trains and cars didn’t have to overcome friction from the road? (Hint: A LOT!) Friction is one of the leading causes of energy loss in mechanical systems (like engine efficiency).

  32. Caroline Wood says:

    how can this be useful to humans?

  33. Caroline Wood says:

    can you see those flux tubes? And is the disk cold to the touch?

  34. Louise Bingham says:

    so AMAZING!!!!

  35. No, not quite. It’s physics in action!

  36. Lydia Fancher says:

    they look like pies… did you use a harry potter spell on them…

  37. Kris Smith says:

    This is so AWESOME!!!!

  38. You can breathe because our atmosphere contains oxygen. You can sense the space in a large room versos a tiny room, so you have a sensory idea of space although the space itself is not visible to your eye, but “locked in space” as described in the video simply means that it is locked into a set of coordinates you can describe mathematically.

  39. Ushapriya Ravilla says:

    The video says it is locked in space.
    but I do not see space. And in fact I can still breathe…

  40. Ushapriya Ravilla says:

    how do you do that!!!!!!!

  41. Jennifer Atchison says:

    Meg Atchison says:
    OH MY GOODNESS!!!!!! That was so cool! how does it lift up like that???!!!!! I am going to try that!!!

  42. Elisabeth Vonderahe says:

    it is so coooool !!!!!!

  43. MJ Wixsom says:


  44. laurie johnson says:


    that was really reeeaaalllyyy cooooooool and really aaawwweeesssooommmeee how it lifted like that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!and did i mention really cool!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  45. Judy EnglandMcCarthy says:

    thats so cooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  46. Myra Johnson says:

    I wish i had one!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  47. Alex Gray says:


  48. Myra Johnson says:

    that was coooool !!!!!!