(this Maglev is shown in operation at Pudong Airport as it shuttles passengers to/from Shanghai)
One of my earliest toys was a source of hours of amazement and wonderment. Instead of the expensive Lionel train set the kids down the road had, I had these two amazing bar magnets. I do not recall when they actually came into my possession but it was certainly before I started school.
They were not pretty. Just dull grey colored small bars of metal that I used to play with on any flat surface I could find. What amazing magical mystery force was at work in those one inch long pieces that someone had discarded. It did not take long to figure out the north and south poles of this matched pair and with that I learned to chase one magnet across the table by putting it near the polar same end of the second magnet. Presto, propulsion occurred and I held in my fingers a true bit of alchemy.
In my childish imagination I could envision these two little chunks of iron as the magical energy source of the rocket ship that would propel me into space where I could join forces with Buck Rogers.
I am now very much older and cannot tell you exactly what happened to these childhood toys. I do know that they “propelled” my mind to seek answers – scientific answers to why magnets behaved in such a manner. And that knowledge that opposites attract and similar fields repel came when I sought more answers form teachers. Unfortunately (maybe) sometimes my questions were not appropriate to the subject being taught but I persevered and finally understood that what was happening with the magnets was not magic nor a mystery.
Currently the community where I reside in my (now) old age is in the midst of long winded political debate about a Light Rail Transit (LRT) network. Those promoting the LRT have it right (as it seems to me anyhow); if we can utilize more public transit we will certainly reduce pollution caused by internal combustion motors. There is some debate as to which is the preferable fuel source – gas or the more benign electricity. Although it is fact that generation of electricity also produces pollution in one form or another.
This brings me back to my two magnets and the leaps and bounds that modern day science has achieved. I notice that Germany has now been using a propulsion system called Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) to power intercity trains at often subsonic speeds. Obviously, some German kid must have also had a pair of bar magnets instead of a Lionel train in his/her childhood. Reading more about this MagLev propulsion system I learned that speeds can be determined by the sizes of magnets used and the (compared to gas powered internal combustion motors or generated electricity) the amount of pollution generate is almost negligible. Several cities in Japan and (even now) USA are engaging this endless power supply for mass transit projects. The LRT (pictured above) in operation at Pudong Airport in Shanghai seems to be operating quite well.
It leaves me wondering why anyone would propose a costly mass transit system such as the LRT being discussed in my hometown while ignoring modern technology that is likely to render the internal combustion and electricity propelled transit systems into early obsolescence.
I think each of us should give the great political thinkers of our time a pair of simple bar magnets to fiddle with during their lengthy debates. Whatever happened to common sense?