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NASA’s levitation breakthrough
Scientists have come up with a way to make mice float weightless for hours using magnetics—are humans next?
 

NASA just had “a big Where’s My ‘Back to the Future’ Skateboard breakthrough” moment, said Jesus Diaz in Gizmodo. Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., were able to levitate a mouse for hours on end using a superconducting magnet, something never before done with a mammal. But “the mice were high in more than one way”—after the first mouse got disoriented in the weightless environment, the next one got a sedative.

This “might be classified more as a cool party trick than a scientific breakthrough,” said Eliza Strickland in Discover. The first mouse was “only as heavy as a stack of four pennies,” after all. Still, the technique—which works because the water in the mouse’s body is weakly magnetic—should help space researchers study the physiological effects of low gravity.

So, the big question—could this work "to levitate humans one day?” said Lisa Grossman in New Scientist. Researcher Yuanming Liu says yes, theoretically, “but the cost would be prohibitive.” It still might be cheaper than the “vomit comet” planes that NASA currently uses to study microgravity, or the International Space Station. It would certainly be more practical.

Getting the “tiny creatures to float comfortably” is great, said Charles Q. Choi in LiveScience, but is it safe? So far, so good. The mice showed no ill effect from hours of levitating, and rats subjected to slightly less-powerful magnetic fields for 10 weeks came out apparently unscathed, too.

 

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