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A magnet in mid-air

A magnet in mid-air

Floating in mid-air between two metal plates, a tiny magnet bobs and spins in the wind from the viewer’s breath. No batteries are used, no electromagnets, no supercooled superconducting materials, just some easy to obtain materials from local stores.

The heart of the device are the Bismuth plates. These are what make the magnetic suspension possible.

Bismuth is very similar to lead. It is easy to melt, and is as heavy and hard as lead. Because lead is toxic and bismuth is not (it is the active ingredient in the Pepto-Bismol medicine for upset stomach), it is used in environmentally safe bird shot for hunters. It is in this form that it is most easily found at gun shops and sporting goods stores. It can also be ordered on the Internet from

Precision Reloading.

[Since they only sell large quantities, we have obtained some and offer smaller amounts in our catalog.]

Bismuth is also used in some fishing lures as a replacement for lead.

This toy uses bismuth because of its special magnetic properties. [Don’t forget to read the next page, where we do the same project with another substance called pyrolytic graphite.]

Melting and casting the bismuth

The first step in assembling the levitator is to melt the bismuth and pour it into a mold to make the two suspension plates. The mold is the bottom of an aluminum soda can, which has a convenient dimple that is about the right size.

You can use other molds if you wish, such as aluminum muffin tins, but remember that they will not be suitable for their normal uses afterwards. Don’t use something the cook thinks is precious.

Place about a tablespoon of bismuth shot into the cheap spoon purchased for this purpose (don’t use the cook’s favorite spoon).

Heat the shot in the spoon over a stove or propane torch until it melts. A bit of coathanger wire can be used at this point to rake the slag (bismuth oxides) off of the top of the melted metal and onto the side of the spoon.

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