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The Sciences

Floating Frog

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This little frog, floating weightlessly, was not photographed aboard the space shuttle but right here on Earth. Jan Kees Maan and Andre Geim, physicists at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, used a powerful magnet to levitate the frog. Any living thing, when placed in a magnetic field, itself becomes a magnet as the atoms in its cells try to shift their electrons to oppose the external magnetic field. This effect is usually very weak, but in a field 100,000 times that of Earth’s, the force produced is strong enough to cancel gravity and levitate the object, in this case a frog (which seems to have suffered no ill effects). Apart from levity, Maan says the experiment has a practical side. Scientists can now test microgravity experiments before--or instead of--sending them up in a space shuttle. You come as close as you can possibly get on Earth to spacelike conditions, says Maan.

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