A joint governmental research team has developed a device that can create an artificial gravity-free state using strong magnets, researchers said Wednesday.
The experimental device was developed jointly by Tohoku University's research institute on metal materials in Sendai and the Government Industrial Research Institute, Osaka, an affiliate of the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, in Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture.
The device is expected to enable experiments in a weightless state, now possible only in space, to be conducted on Earth.
Specifically, researchers say they hope that the device can be used to develop new materials, noting that the structure of matter often changes when it hardens after being melted in a state of weightlessness.
Furthermore, if substances are melted while floating in a gravity-free state, they become perfectly spherical and do not mix with impurities stuck to the inner wall of the container nor harden when the temperature is lowered beyond their melting points.
Therefore, such experiments in a gravity-free state are expected to lead to the production of glass of high purity and the development of new materials. Such experiments are often conducted on space-shuttle missions. However, space experiments are very expensive and can only be conducted by astronauts.
According to the research team, the experimental device comprises a superconducting magnet 400,000 times as powerful as the Earth's magnetism and a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser.
In developing the device, the team worked with a law stating that so-called diamagnetic substances (such as glass, water and most organic compounds), if placed in a magnetic field, become slightly magnetized and display repulsion force in the opposite direction to the magnetic field.
The device places a substance in a magnetic field so strong that the substance's repulsion force against the field is equal to natural gravity, thereby creating a state of zero gravity. The CO2 laser is used to heat the floating substance above 1,000 degrees Celsius and melt it to make it perfectly spherical.