The Magnet So Powerful It Explodes Copper Wires

The average American refrigerator generates a magnetic field of one-half Tesla. The world-record breaking magnet developed by the High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Dresden generates nearly 200 times that much, a whopping 91.4 Tesla.

The magnet, dubbed the Pulse Cell, is about the size of a paint bucket (55cm tall, 32cm across) and weighs 200kg. It's constructed from a special copper alloy wire fitted into custom-designed Kevlar corsets and wrapped in a steel jacket, allowing it to withstand the massive force of over 90 Tesla. "At 100 Tesla... the Lorentz force inside the copper would generate a pressure which equals 40,000 times the air pressure at sea level," calculates HZDR (Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf - High Magnetic Field Laboratory Dresden) director Joachim Wosnitza - enough to power to make the wiring literally explode.

Basically, when the charge gets large enough, the force of the current flowing through the wire and the magnetic field it generates interfere with one another so much that the wire tears itself apart. To compensate for this, researchers used a two-layer design: The inner six-coil layer is built to handle up to 50 Tesla while the outer, 12-coil layer of copper coil can support another 40 Tesla for the .02 second duration of the test. This method allowed the researchers to squeeze 91.4 Tesla from their magnet, beating the previous record of 89 Tesla held for years by the Los Alamos National Lab in America.

So what good is a magnet that only runs for two-hundredths of a second? "We're not really that interested in reaching top field values, but instead in using it for research in materials science," explains Wosnitza. Specifically, these magnetic fields could help spur the development of next-generation superconductors. The Pulse Cells are garnering so much interest from other scientific disciplines, in fact, that the HZDR plans to build another six by 2015 to meet demand.

[Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf - Wired]

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