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LaGrange Park students attracted to maglev train project

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A high-speed train of the future is now arriving on a magnetic track at Park Junior High School in LaGrange Park.

It’s just on a smaller scale for the moment and not ready for boarding until at least 2040.

Eighth-graders in science, technology, engineering and math classes worked in teams Feb. 6 and 7 on a research assignment from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

“We’re looking at the best way to convince people to take the train instead of driving by 2040, and that could be to have a maglev train on the Burlington line,” teacher Sydney Schuler told her students.

A limited number of maglev trains operate without wheels through magnetic levitation in Japan, Germany and Shanghai. Powerful electromagnets float cars above rails at speeds of more than 300 mph.

Park students tested design basics, such as whether magnets should be used to repel or attract a block of wood, which served as the train, along a 59.5-centimeter track. They chose from an assortment of round, square and doughnut-shaped magnets in varying strengths.

Grace Hayes and Niamh Brophy secured four square magnets with tape to the bottom of their train. But they couldn’t get it to move and tried other combinations.

At another table, Luke Rademaker, Kyle Muntwyler and Deajah Harris tried taping a round magnet on the rear of the train and then repelling it forward with two other round magnets.

“It’s hard to hold your hand steady in the same spot going forward, or it jumps the tracks, or goes off to the side,” Luke observed.

To refine the design, Kyle attached two magnets to the sides of the tracks to compensate for the upward push on the back of the train. Deajah suggested somehow attaching small square magnets all along the tracks, but there weren’t enough squares.

A third team used a different combination of magnets, one weak and one strong, to repel the train forward. Members had difficulty when tape on the train got stuck in a break on a plastic wall lining the rails.

“It was a fun project, but frustrating we couldn’t get it just right,” said Will Bareis.

Schuler reassured her students it didn’t matter if the train didn’t make it all the way down the track.

“Our task is to tell CMAP where the problems are and to gather data,” she said.

The maglev project is the school’s third partnership with the regional planning agency to help students make real world connections, Schuler said. Students also studied ways to promote local food sources and water conservation.

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