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Medicine Space Science

Scientists Levitate Mice for NASA 237

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the best-easy-chair-ever dept.
sterlingda writes to tell us that scientists have built a mouse-levitating superconducting magnet, working on behalf of NASA to study variable levels of gravity. The group hopes to ascertain what physiological impacts prolonged exposure to microgravity might have. "Repeated levitation tests showed the mice, even when not sedated, could quickly acclimate to levitation inside the cage. After three or four hours, the mice acted normally, including eating and drinking. The strong magnetic fields did not seem to have any negative impacts on the mice in the short term, and past studies have shown that rats did not suffer from adverse effects after 10 weeks of strong, non-levitating magnetic fields."
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NASA Scientists Levitate Mice

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  • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Friday September 11, 2009 @01:59PM (#29391533)

    are some of them north-oriented and some south?

    can you make a compass out of them?

    if you put one of those mickeys near a HDD, does it erase some of the data?

    and finally, where do you find ferrous-enriched cheese to feed them?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Kratisto (1080113)
      What is the curie temperature for a mouse?
    • Re:bipolar mice? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by x_IamSpartacus_x (1232932) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:21PM (#29391811)
      Ok... I know I should be more attentive but when I first read that headline I thought;

      Scientists Levitate Miss USA

      That would be something... Maybe they can just levitate that dress...
      • by Rei (128717) on Friday September 11, 2009 @03:21PM (#29392517) Homepage

        Ok... I know I should be more attentive but when I first read that headline I thought;

        Scientists Levitate Miss USA

        I personally believe that U.S. scientists are unable to do so because, um, some scientists out there in our nation don't have magnets and, uh, I believe that our, uh, research like such as, uh, Caltech and, uh, the Harvard and everywhere like such as, and I believe that they should, uh, our research over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, should help Caltech and should help the Harvard and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future.

    • by Hurricane78 (562437) <(deleted) (at) (slashdot.org)> on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:26PM (#29391875)

      Why does everyone think it's normal for mice, to eat partially digested and rotten (with the help of bacteria) cow milk? What do you think they do without humans? Suck on tits of dead cows? ^^

      • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

        I don't think anyone thinks it's normal but from what my "experimentation" (mouse traps in the attic) seems to indicate, they certainly do like it. Of course, peanut butter works far better.

        [Queue: "Why does everyone think it's normal for mice to eat mashed up, mechanically processed peanuts...]

      • by Schemat1c (464768)

        Why does everyone think it's normal for mice, to eat partially digested and rotten (with the help of bacteria) cow milk?

        Yes, it's very unusual for a scavenger to like processed food.

      • Re:bipolar mice? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Ironica (124657) <`pixel' `at' `boondock.org'> on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:54PM (#29392225) Journal

        Why does everyone think it's normal for mice, to eat partially digested and rotten (with the help of bacteria) cow milk? What do you think they do without humans? Suck on tits of dead cows? ^^

        For that matter, why does anyone think it's normal for humans to eat cow secretions?

        • Re:bipolar mice? (Score:5, Informative)

          by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Friday September 11, 2009 @03:06PM (#29392359)

          For that matter, why does anyone think it's normal for humans to eat cow secretions?

          Ah; now that's a more interesting one. Once upon a time it wasn't normal [bbc.co.uk] however, (almost certainly, unless you are a freak or are Chinese) you and your genetically dominant have been taking advantage of a recent gene mutation [scientificamerican.com] to make that normal.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Hurricane78 (562437)

          Oh boy, you can’t believe how much I do agree on that one.

          But why does anyone think preparations like white flour, sugar or that liquid of heat-wrecked proteins called "UHT-milk" (no matter from what mammal) are even food?

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Tablizer (95088)

          For that matter, why does anyone think it's normal for humans to eat cow secretions? [cheese]

          I eat cheese all the time, and I feel perfectly normooooo.
             

        • Re:bipolar mice? (Score:5, Informative)

          by flynt (248848) on Friday September 11, 2009 @04:36PM (#29393415)

          That's begging the question. By definition, whatever humans do as a species is ipso facto *normal*. What is considered normal will change over time though.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Samah (729132)

            That's begging the question. By definition, whatever humans do as a species is ipso facto *normal*. What is considered normal will change over time though.

            Stop right there... http://begthequestion.info/ [begthequestion.info]

      • Re:bipolar mice? (Score:4, Informative)

        by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday September 11, 2009 @03:37PM (#29392733)

        I have kept mice as pets and while they will eat cheese they prefer nuts,fruits and breads.

      • Re:bipolar mice? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by rubycodez (864176) on Friday September 11, 2009 @04:09PM (#29393129)

        rotten? cheese is made with help of enzyme, fruit juice can be used. not all cheeses are ripened with bacteria

      • Why does everyone think it's normal for mice, to eat partially digested and rotten (with the help of bacteria) cow milk?

        It's called "anthropomorphism".

    • Some of them behaved with excessive enthusiasm, and then couldn't be bothered to breathe.
      Others turned their back on Disney and struck out in a protest for independent Rodent rights.

  • Been done before... (Score:5, Informative)

    by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Friday September 11, 2009 @01:59PM (#29391535) Homepage Journal
    Look for The Flying DutchFrog [hfml.ru.nl] to see electromagnet experiments in levitation on other vertebrates.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:07PM (#29391645)

      From TFA:

      Other researchers have made live frogs and grasshoppers float in mid-air before, but such research with mice, being closer biologically to humans, could help in studies to counteract bone loss due to reduced gravity over long spans of time, as might be expected in deep space missions or on the surfaces of other planets.

    • by vertinox (846076)

      Well it has been done before but this is the first mammal and largest animal so far and is closer to a human than a frog.

  • Sounds fun! (Score:2, Funny)

    by Garridan (597129)

    When will this scale up to human size? I wanna play!

    • by Kjella (173770)

      Probably, but so will the magnetic field. It says the mouse weighs 10 grams, so a ~10000x increase in the magnetic field might get rather nasty.

      • Re:Sounds fun! (Score:4, Informative)

        by John Hasler (414242) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:36PM (#29392009) Homepage

        That isn't how it works. The same fieild intensity that levitates a mouse would levitate a person. However, the volume throughout which the field is of constant intensity would have to be scaled up and the energy stored in the field is proportional to volume so your number may not be too far off if seen as a measure of the size and cost of the magnet.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:01PM (#29391559)
    From one of the earlier experiments [livescience.com].

    Looks more like a cheese shredder than a large, scientifically purposed apparatus.
  • by TommydCat (791543) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:03PM (#29391603) Homepage
    ...using a 3-man slingshot and dead squirrels.

    The dead squirrels did not seem to suffer adverse effects while they were levitating, though it must be said they were in this state only for a few moments and there were adverse effects after they struck their respective targets.
    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:26PM (#29391873) Journal

      ...using a 3-man slingshot and dead squirrels. The dead squirrels did not seem to suffer adverse effects while they were levitating, though it must be said they were in this state only for a few moments and there were adverse effects after they struck their respective targets.

      Dear sir or ma'am, I am a colleague of yours in the respected field of Airborne Necromancy and would like to see your records and raw data. Specifically I am interested to see trajectory and ballistics data on said deceased squirrel and would like to know targets, their reaction and splash radius (if any). Also, I require data on the haired appendage attached to the posterior of the squirrel and would like to know if it emitted a satisfactory trailing manifold while said furry body traveled along its arc. Also, if you have raw data on the reactions of homo sapiens of the homogametic sex upon realization of said ballistic squirrel, I would be eternally grateful for it and any footage of shear horror and/or terror. I look forward to peer reviewing your research in next month's issue of Bodies in Flight. Good day!

      • by TommydCat (791543) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:34PM (#29391983) Homepage
        Dear eldavojohn - thank you very much for your interest in our research.

        Unfortunately data collected on targetted facial responses is strictly limited to third-party hear-say information since the data collection stopped shortly after levitation was achieved due to personal safety risks to the research team if they were to have remained on-site. The time period of this research predates the "YouTube" era, and indeed no video recording devices were available that wouldn't prove too bulky for safe movement during the personnel evacuation window.

        While my submission cannot be considered authoritative in this subject by peer review, it is refreshing to see other researchers interested in this field of study.

        Good day to you and keep your head down!
        • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:54PM (#29392221) Journal
          Refusal to relay your data to me?! I'll have you know I am the professor emeritus eldavojohn from Peter Wiggin's School for the Demented Brothers. Perhaps you've heard of it? Yes, well, I'm kind of a big deal there.

          Your unwillingness to share crucial data to our pain-staking squirrel research not only upsets me but mars the very foundation upon which we have built our esteemed ideals and research. Furthermore your lack of savvy in the sub-field of post experiment egress and planning belie your innocence and naive dabbling in such a rewarding and rich genre of science.

          In short, I recommend you put the squirrel slingshot down before you fail to hurt someone and leave the research to those of us properly equipped with chinchilla Gatling guns. Your work may make for a great show on the Discovery Channel but there's no place for you in my school.
      • by Krneki (1192201)
        Dear sir or ma'am the squirrel rocket bomb is an ancient ritual performed during the new year festivals. It was used in EU in the '80 and '90. It consisted in putting a rocket petard inside a squirrel ass. The ritual eventually become banned, but the older people still remembers it.
    • But one must say, that levitation because of gravitational effects is not the same as that of (electro)magnetic effects. One can not use the one to study the other, for example. (Although some "scientists" attempt it nonetheless.)

    • ...using a 3-man slingshot and dead squirrels.

      Really? That sounds pretty cool. How did you get the dead squirrels to operate the slingshot?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Zerth (26112)

        Not sure about the squirrels, but others have great success putting Linux on dead badgers [strangehorizons.com]. That may be cross-compilable to squirrels, but you'd definitely need the memory stick version, just from space concerns.

  • No video? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by genner (694963) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:07PM (#29391647)
    Why no video?
    Flying mice on youtube would bring more media coverage of this.
  • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:07PM (#29391651) Journal

    Thats Gouda

    but it'll be cheddar when they make it work on humans. Then it would be truly Marble-ous.

  • by argent (18001) <peter@slashdot.2 ... m ['nga' in gap]> on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:09PM (#29391671) Homepage Journal

    What happens when you create a quantum superposition of levitating mice?

  • no side effects?! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ILuvRamen (1026668)
    So, wouldn't it generally levitating the mouse using the iron in its blood? So if your blood cells are yanking your body around, wouldn't that sort of interrupt the normal flow of blood and cause damage to the walls of your veins and capillaries and arteries and all that?
  • "The strong magnetic fields did not seem to have any negative impacts on the mice in the short term, and past studies have shown that rats did not suffer from adverse effects after 10 weeks of strong, non-levitating magnetic fields."

    Sure, but put a cell phone next to their cage, and they have cancer in a week, right!?!

    • by mrsquid0 (1335303) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:22PM (#29391841) Homepage

      Cell phones operate at different frequencies and different power levels than the apparatus used in this experiment, so the lack of adverse effects on the mice does not really say anything about the effects of a cell phone on mice (or humans).

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Bakkster (1529253)

        The field in this experiment isn't EM radiation at all. It's just a (really big) magnet. There is no time varying component (it has no frequency) so it does not have an electric component (look up Maxwell's equations). This has as much to do with EM radiation as a cup of water on your desk has to do with the waves on the ocean.

        That said, if you move a wire through it, you'll generate one hell of an electic field, but only while the strength of the magnetic field through the wire is changing.

        • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:55PM (#29392235)

          That said, if you move a wire through it, you'll generate one hell of an electic field, but only while the strength of the magnetic field through the wire is changing.

          Wait, if you move a wire through an unchanging field (perpendicularly), you'll induce a current, right? You'll also induce one if you hold a wire still in a field whose strength is changing.

          On a related note, axons are in many ways like long wires. Move around in a high magnetic field, and you'll notice odd effects. It's more of a problem for people than for mice -- our axons run longer, and so inductive effects are stronger.

          • by Omestes (471991)

            Axons aren't quite like wires, though. Its been awhile, but don't they use current via ion channels, and not an actual current? When activated they suck up a bunch of positive ions (I think calcium, might be wrong though), and expel the negative ones (potassium, might be wrong though) creating a charge. They aren't llike little wires.

            If they were, I imagine that MRI's would be much more interesting though.

            • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Friday September 11, 2009 @04:25PM (#29393289)

              Oh, but they do get interesting, if you disable the rate-of-field-change safeties that are integrated into clinical scanners. Our lab does high-resolution MR imaging in small animals, and if we don't disable those safeties, we can't get the gradients we need. (In this field, "gradient" refers to a varying magnetic field that's overlaid on the nominally constant and uniform field from the main magnet.)

              Even without involving the gradients, if you move your head too quickly near the bore of our 7T magnet, it can have very odd effects. I'm not sure of the mechanism, but I've assumed it has to do with currents induced in axons. They aren't wires, but they are conductive channels, and as Volta showed, they do respond to purely electrical stimulation.

              (I hope someone better versed in MR physics will chime in here. I'm just a lowly computer guy, relying on what I've soaked up from my co-workers due to curiosity and overheard discussions.)

          • by Bakkster (1529253)

            Wait, if you move a wire through an unchanging field (perpendicularly), you'll induce a current, right? You'll also induce one if you hold a wire still in a field whose strength is changing.

            A voltage is induced only when the magnetic flux (aka, the strength of the magnetic field) in the wire changes. If the wire is moving perpendicular to the field in such a way that the wire 'sees' a constant magnetic field strength (in theory), there will be no voltage. In practice this is very difficult to do (the wire will move at least a little bit).
            Per the definition you are correct that a time-varying magnetic field will also induce a voltage (this is how the secondary on a transformer works). Howeve

            • If the wire is moving perpendicular to the field in such a way that the wire 'sees' a constant magnetic field strength (in theory), there will be no voltage.

              No, not the strength per se. If a moving wire crosses lines of [constant or varying] magnetic flux, a voltage is induced in it.

              Example: imagine a large circular magnet with a narrow slot that forms a pair of parallel poles. The fiend strength in the central region of the poles is essentially constant (and perpendicular to the plane of the poles). I

            • by Chris Burke (6130)

              All that is required is a change in flux, and a wire moving through a constant magnetic field is a change in flux. You can think of a 'change in area times field over time' as 'length times field times change in position over time'. The wiki page on Faraday's law of induction [wikipedia.org] shows how you arrive at the velocity-based component of induced emf.

          • by Chris Burke (6130)

            That said, if you move a wire through it, you'll generate one hell of an electic field, but only while the strength of the magnetic field through the wire is changing.

            Wait, if you move a wire through an unchanging field (perpendicularly), you'll induce a current, right? You'll also induce one if you hold a wire still in a field whose strength is changing.

            Yes you're right. What actually induces the current isn't exactly the magnetic field, it's magnetic flux [wikipedia.org]. The induced voltage is proportional to the cha

    • On the other hand: Put them in a microwave and shoot them with a industrial-strength laser, and they will not have cancer too... because they will be a heap of ashes.

      I understand your argument and I specifically agree with it. But by putting yourself in the opposite extreme position, you're not much better than them. Even if it happens for dubious humoristic purposes. ^^

    • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:48PM (#29392151)

      This was a static field. A static field is like resting your head on the floor. An oscillating field is like beating your head against the floor.

      Of course, nothing will stop some people from claiming that strong static magnetic fields cause cancer. Maybe they can fight it out with the people who say that they cure disease.

      • Hmm, If I remember correctly from my physics class, any time electrons move through a magnetic field, don't they produce electric forces in a direction perpedicular to the motion through the magnetic field? Or something like that. Anyhow, electric generators, I remember, are just coils of wire that you rotate inside a strong magnetic field.

        So, the question is, could exposure to magnetic fields strong enough to levitate you, also cause electric currents in your body, if you move through the field, strong eno

        • by Bakkster (1529253)

          Hmm, If I remember correctly from my physics class, any time electrons move through a magnetic field, don't they produce electric forces in a direction perpedicular to the motion through the magnetic field?

          An electrical current generates a magnetic field surrounding it. In the presence of another magnetic field, the two push against each other (as magnets do) and produce a physical force on the condustor.

          And as TFA mentions, rats suffered no ill effects from long-term exposure to strong (probably several Tesla) magnetic fields. It is possible that intensely strong (hundreds or thousands of Tesla) could cause issues, though, but that's what research and experiments are meant to determine.

  • by Tablizer (95088) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:19PM (#29391791) Homepage Journal

    No no no, bad scientist. I told you to work on flying cars, not flying mice.

    • by mrsquid0 (1335303)

      I would rather see flying mice. Come to think of it, that is essentially what bats are, so nature beat us to it,

  • past studies have shown that rats did not suffer from adverse effects after 10 weeks of strong, non-levitating magnetic fields.

    Right. Non-levitating has no negative effects in the short term. Actual Levitating has no immediate effects in the short term. The effects of levitating magnets in the long term could be catastrophic, and if thats the case I hope we observe it and know not to put ourselves through it.

    However, we've seen first hand that astronaughts who don't get exercise in 0 gravity have had some side effects like Atrophy, so I hope they have zero gravity mouse wheels to keep these mice in shape while testing them for prol

    • so I hope they have zero gravity mouse wheels to keep these mice in shape while testing them for prolonged periods.

      Where's your sense of imagination? If it's zero G, we're not limited to mouse wheels and/or hamster balls. How about a hamster tetrahedron? I mean, not to be one-sided, but surely a mouse mobius strip is the least we could hope for?

    • The effects of levitating magnets in the long term could be catastrophic

      What reason do you have to make such a claim?

      I hope they have zero gravity mouse wheels to keep these mice in shape

      How do you expect a mouse wheel to work without gravity? Strap the little guys down with elastic?

      • by dissy (172727)

        How do you expect a mouse wheel to work without gravity? Strap the little guys down with elastic?

        Personally I just place the official scientific-taunting-food-bite to float about 3 inches from where the floating mouse is, sit back, and watch him run!

        They are so cute when hungry weightless and scared :D

  • Can I get a shark/laser joke here?
  • May come sooner than we all thought...
  • by malevolentjelly (1057140) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:58PM (#29392261) Journal

    To be honest with you, when you reach this level of awesome in your experimentation, you don't even need a premise. The NASA scientists could have simply announced that they did it for the lulz and it would be okay.

    I think the public would excuse it.

  • by digitalhermit (113459) on Friday September 11, 2009 @02:59PM (#29392273) Homepage

    "Heeere I come to save the daaaayy.. Mighty Mouse is on his waaaay!!"

    Flying mice. Sheesh.

  • I think so, Brain, but the implementation is left as an exercise for the student.
  • by tromtone (1186091) on Friday September 11, 2009 @03:24PM (#29392571)
    From the other perspective, could this technology be used to add "gravity" (or a downward force equal to the Earth's gavity at the crust) in space? ...an alternative to centripetal force?
  • So ... (Score:3, Funny)

    by PPH (736903) on Friday September 11, 2009 @04:10PM (#29393135)

    ... the whole jumping up on a chair and screaming strategy may no longer be effective?

    I'd better warn the wife.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Ha! Take that Vroomfondel. Try to drop dead of myxomatosis on me will you?!

  • No problems at all, until it sucks the hemoglobin right out of your blood!
  • How this works (Score:5, Informative)

    by DrLudicrous (607375) on Friday September 11, 2009 @07:37PM (#29394785) Homepage
    Disclaimer: I'm an MR Physicist.

    Regarding gradients: The gradients used in MRI vary in *position*. Yes in time, as well, but only because they are pulsed. We can ignore ramping issues to first order. Since the field varies as a function of position, when you move around, indeed the flux is changing which can induce currents in looped conductors so as to oppose the change. This is called induction. Many people, my self included, notice a strange sensation when first entering an MRI magnet. This is because the field is only homogeneous over a relatively small volume, outside of which there are once again field gradients (these are different than the intentional field gradients used to obtain an MRI image). It is probably not axons but something in the ear that is picking this up, I am not sure. Also, field strength has *nothing* to do with this effect. It's how fast the field changes as a function of position, i.e. the gradient, combined with the velocity of the pickup object.

    Regarding repulsion: Water is diamagnetic. That means that the little spins (i.e. electrons) orbiting the atoms of a water molecule tend to align *against* the applied field direction. These spins will experience a repulsive force, hence the levitation.

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