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QUESTION: Can you be my expert for a 7th grade science project?

ANSWER: I can try for sure.  I love science fair projects and I'm no longer the director of a 23 county regional science it' no longer a conflict of interest.  What's your maglev project?

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QUESTION: Thank you for responding! My question is, Does the distance between magnets affect there ability to levitate? It doesn't matter if you are a director of a 23 county regional science fair, I just needed to know if you were interested. I am currently trying to figure out my hypothesis and procedure map and list for my project. I have magnetic rocks that I would like to try to levitate something. Do you have any suggestions on how I can levitate anything?

ANSWER: Yes, it varies strongly with distance, it depends on the cube of the distance between the two magnets (d*d*d).  Can you build or remove (like from a motor) a strong electromagnet or get access to more regular magnets than a magnetic rock?  Check or How many rocks do you have?  Are you trying to build a train or just suspend something?  You might be able to make a track and suspending rails for a styrofoam train out of magnet tape.  It comes in big rolls, sticky-sided for like $10.

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QUESTION: I am only trying to suspend a pencil, but I need something attached to the pencil to make it levitate. No I am not building a train. I have about 21 rocks, so I think something with a lot of counter force will do it for the suspension. Again, I am only in the hypothesis state. Can you recommend any hypothesis for this question? I'm stuck on that. Also, What is your email? I would prefer emailing you that to keep on going on all experts. Thanks!

OK, so why are you trying to suspend a pencil?  You need magnets that are at least strong enough to suspend themselves, so make sure your rocks are at least that strong or you need different magnets.  

As to your hypothesis, all science fair projects/experiments begin with a question that they answer.  Your question appears to be, "can I suspend a pencil with magnets?"  The hypothesis is a guess that answers that question.  I would assume you would not proceed if your guess was "no."  Maybe your answer is "yes."  Maybe it's "how high will depend on strnegth and weights of the magnets I use."  That kind of thing.  If you wish to ask a more complex and impressive question, you might try to figure out the strength of the magnets you have by measuring how far the separation is based on the total weight.  That will take some math to prove the strength and some careful measurement of some kind of 1/r^3 strength relationship.  Then we can talk about measurement.  You'll need a way to hold the magnets in place over one another.


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Dr. Stephen O. Nelson


I can answer most basic physics questions, physics questions about science fiction and everyday observations of physics, etc. I'm also usually good for science fair advice (I'm the regional science fair director). I do not answer homework problems. I will occasionally point out where a homework solution went wrong, though. I'm usually good at explaining odd observations that seem counterintuitive, energy science, nuclear physics, nuclear astrophysics, and alternative theories of physics are my specialties.


I was a physics professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, research in nuclear technology and nuclear astrophysics. My travelling science show saw over 20,000 students of all ages. I taught physics, nuclear chemistry, radiation safety, vacuum technology, and answer tons of questions as I tour schools encouraging students to consider careers in science. I moved on to a non-academic job with more research just recently.

Ph. D. from Duke University in physics, research in nuclear astrophysics reactions, gamma-ray astronomy technology, and advanced nuclear reactors.

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