Great Expectations / Science / Boaz Almog, 36
A physicist and codeveloper of a superconductor - that levitates.
The research group on superconductors has been meeting for the past 15 years in the physics department building at Tel Aviv University. The aim: to create an applied superconductor.
"Our applied project was to create high-quality layers of superconductive material, instead of using the conventional low-quality ceramic materials," says Dr. Boaz Almog.
For the past eight years, Almog has been taking part in a group led by Prof. Guy Deutscher from the School of Physics and Astronomy at Tel Aviv University. "We patented the discovery in 2010 and asked ourselves whether the improved features of the thin superconductor we had created would enable it to levitate. I bet that it wouldn't work, but to my surprise the conductor hovered in the air."
They showed the floating conductor to students, and it quickly became an attraction. "We noticed that people wanted to watch it, and then we had the idea of making a video," Almog says.
Two months ago, Almog showed the levitating superconductor at the annual conference of the Association of Science-Technology Centers in Baltimore. The responses were excellent. The demonstration was filmed and uploaded to YouTube and has already received about 7 million views.
"I'm getting about 300 e-mails a day," Almog laughs. "High-school students from all over the world are asking me about the possibility of levitating with a skateboard. Others say the demonstration made them want to study physics. And meanwhile there have been some serious suggestions and ideas."
Recently, President Shimon Peres attended a demonstration. "He was enthusiastic," Almog says. Demonstration kits have been sold to two Israeli science museums - at the Weizmann Institute and MadaTech in Haifa. Other buyers include a science museum in Pennsylvania and a private science buff abroad.
Superconductivity was discovered by Heike Kamerlingh Onnes in 1911, a breakthrough for which the Dutch-born scientist received the Nobel Prize. "Superconductors are materials which, when cooled, lose their resistance to electricity completely. It's the only quantum phenomenon we can see and feel in everyday life," Almog explains.
"Since our discovery we have been researching the levitation issue in depth," he adds, noting that this was not the research's main goal. "We're examining how to upgrade the superconductor and make it more applicable. We're developing threads of superconductivity, which will make it possible to produce inexpensive magnets for magnetic resonance imaging, convey electricity in large quantities in a way not possible today, and improve the capabilities of the Israel Electric Corporation to produce smart power networks."
Almog is pleased by the video's contribution to the research. "The exposure is frightening, but we've definitely not gotten rich from it," he says. "We remain in the same research lab and haven't made a cent from the story, though we've gained positive attention. People are taking an interest in the phenomenon, and I hope to realize my goal of making a contribution to humanity through development and research."