Last night I had this wonderful dream. It was a normal day in just about every way except I had this amazing ability. When I jumped, I was able to leap great distances and almost fly. No wings were involved - it was almost like I was able to levitate, and slowly drift between places. It was a very calm, serene feeling.
Perhaps that's how the mice in Dr. Liu's lab felt. Advances in Space Research has published online today an accepted manuscript where researchers levitated mice. And, according to their observations, the mice took to the free-floating existence quite readily.
The team first used a magnetic field to suspend large water droplets about 2 inches in diameter. Feeling good about themselves, they decided to try the trick with a mouse of similar size and weight. The little guy, weighing only 10 grams, was placed in a cage-like apparatus that allowed the researchers to film the experiment as well as give the mouse food and water while allowing droppings to fall through the bottom. Then, of course, they turned on the magnet. A static magnetic field with a strength of about 17T and large field gradient of 1.17 T/cm lifted the hapless mouse off the floor.
At first, the mouse wasn't so keen on floating. It tried desperately to grab a hold of anything, and kicked around, causing itself to spin faster and faster. To alleviate some of the stress, researchers sedated the mouse slightly the next time. But before long - about 3-4 hours - even non-sedated mice began acting normally, including eating and drinking in their suspended state.
The team saw no observable negative effects of such a strong magnetic field on the animals, though further research will be necessary to determine if prolonged exposure causes health issues. Previous studies have found that a lower level of magnetic field (9.4T) didn't negatively impact mice, even when they were exposed to it for 10 weeks, but the stronger field used for levitation may have unforeseen, adverse effects after a long time.
While the researchers hope to use this technology for better understanding space flight and bone loss in astronauts, I think there are many applications. Carnival rides, for example. Oh come on - like you've never wanted to levitate!
Liu, Y., Zhu, D., Strayer, D., & Israelsson, U. (2009). Magnetic levitation of large water droplets and mice Advances in Space Research DOI: 10.1016/j.asr.2009.08.033
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