Last year, a massive, 15.4-tonne, 15.85m wide electromagnet was successfully shipped from Long Island to Illinois. This week, it hit another milestone: It was successfully chilled to absolute zero temps after 10 years' inactivity, proving it's ready to solve a whole new decade's physics mysteries.
The magnet, built in the 90s at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, sat for 10 years unused before it was decided it'd be put to better use at Fermilab in Illinois. And so began the most daunting, improbable-sounding odyssey ever: Ship the magnet 3200 from NY to the Midwest, without deconstructing or twisting any of its extremely delicate and complex superconducting rings. Hmm, sure, ok.
Symmetry magazine reports that the magnet was shipped on a barge from Long Island to Florida, and then sent up a bunch of rivers all the way to Illinois, where "a specially designed truck gently drove it the rest of the way to Fermilab."
That's not to mention its steel base, which did involve reconstruction, and took the good part of the last year: Symmetry reports that there were two dozen 26-ton steel parts and a dozen 11-ton smaller pieces were involved, which sounds like the heaviest jigsaw puzzle ever.
But with the recent accomplishment (plummeting the superconductor to -267°C and powering it back up again), it's all systems go. Cold temps are needed to slow particles down enough so they can be studied. This magnet will use a powerful particle beam that's being constructed to continue to study mysterious subatomic particles called muons.
By trapping the beam-produced muons in a magnetic field, scientists can figure out if there are hidden subatomic forces affecting muon movement. This can help them learn more about those forces, about undiscovered particles, and more about the nature of the universe. Those new studies are set to begin in 2017.
Image via Fermilab YouTube