According to Wikipedia, a Railgun is defined as “a purely electrical gun that accelerates a conductive projectile along a pair of metal rails (sic) that permit a large electric current to pass through the projectile. This current interacts with the strong magnetic fields generated by the rails and this accelerates the projectile.”
My first encounter with this idea came from the novel Count Zero
by William Gibson (the sequel to his award winning Neuromancer
—check these out if you get a chance; really cool). Just the notion that a small projectile fired from one of these things could devastate an entire city scared the hell out of me.
When I learned that the US Navy had actually been experimenting with railgun technology and had successfully accelerated a seven pound projectile to the rate of seven times the speed of sound, I grew even more terrified. I thought the phrase “railgun” and the immense destructive capability had come from the Cyberpunk sensibilities of Gibson himself—not from reality.
To be fair, there are some ideas floating around that this technology could revolutionize the way in which we break through the atmosphere and soar into space. As a launching platform for spacecraft, this could re-vitalize the floundering US space program. Being something of a pacifist, I prefer this idea.
The Magnetic Accelerator Kit
from Abong provides a basic example of this technology.
This easy to assemble kit utilizes four magnetic ball bearings to demonstrate the uses of magnetism and kinetic energy. It is built in four stages. Each stage consists of a magnet, a spacer, and a projectile and, when completed, creates a loaded, 10” X 2.25” firing chute.
Firing the Accelerator is easy. You gently push the magnetic ball at the rear of the device. This sets off a chain reaction, with each ball gaining in speed until the final ball jets out of the barrel. The kit comes with a little futuristic cardboard car that catches the projectile then uses the momentum to zoom away from the Accelerator.
While not strong enough to level a city, I predict that several ant mounds could be in trouble. And I wouldn’t recommend aiming this thing at any pet or person.
The video below, while not of the product itself, demonstrates the power that can be generated through magnetic acceleration.
Ouch! I kind’a feel sorry for the toy soldier…
It should be noted that these are very strong little magnets. I would highly recommend keeping them away from any hard-drives, credit cards, and cell phones; there’s a good chance that you would lose data.
So, if you have a kid looking for a science fair project or just want to mess around with a miniature prototype for what could revolutionize weaponry and travel, this is quite an educational and fun little kit.
This item can be found on Amazon.com
Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren