When Marty McFly arrives in Hill Valley later today, he'll probably have the same question that's on the lips of everyone over the world - 'Where's my hoverboard?'
Well, Matthew Sullivan, a superconductor physicist at Ithaca College has an answer for you - it's actually not that far off at all. "We're probably closer to being able to create a transportation system that's levitating than we are to creating personal automobiles that can both fly and drive," he says.
The superconductors that he studies are materials that go a bit weird when cooled to extremely low temperatures. They suddenly resist magnetic attraction and will float above a magnetic surface. With today's technology, all we'd need to do for a real-life hoverboard would be to strap a superconductor on the bottom of a skateboard and cover our streets with magnets.
In fact, that's exactly what Lexus did earlier this year in a custom-made skatepark in Spain. Their hoverboard does, however, weigh about 12kg and took more than a year to build. Bringing that technology to the wider world will likely require materials that can act as superconductors at higher temperatures.
"If we can find superconductors that work at room temperature, or even dry ice temperatures, you'll find an explosion and a revolution in how electronic circuitry works, how electric power is transmitted from power plants to homes, and how power is transmitted inside cities," Sullivan said.
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