A 15-ton electromagnet is about to make the move from New York to Illinois. It would take long enough for a person to move from one state to another; it will take the magnet an estimated five weeks.
Why the lengthy journey? The electromagnet must travel by both land and sea to reach its destination. This is because it cannot be deconstructed, nor can it bear twisting more than 1/8th of an inch without permanently damaging the superconducting coils housed within its aluminum and steel magnetic ring.
Beginning Saturday, the 50-foot-wide electromagnet will be loaded onto a truck designed specifically for the task of hauling it from the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island to the Atlantic via Smith Point Park. From there a barge will escort it down the Eastern coast, around Florida, and back up into the country through the Mississippi, Illinois, and Des Plaines rivers. Eventually it will be loaded back onto another truck and hauled another two days to its final destination: the U.S. Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago.
The 3,200 mile long trip is being made now that Brookhaven no longer needs the electromagnet, which was built there in the 1990s. Fermilab has requisitioned the tool for use in its upcoming Muon g-2 experiment.
Muon g-2 is meant to study the properties of the subatomic muon particle. Discovered in the 1930s at the California Institute of Technology while studying cosmic radiation, the muon’s lifespan lasts 2.2 millionths of a second. According to the upcoming project’s manager Chris Polly, researchers hope that learning more about muons will lead to breakthroughs in the study of particle physics.
The giant magnet, which is scheduled to arrive at Fermilab by the end of July, will cost around $3 million to move from Long Island. Costs for constructing an entirely new electromagnet at the Illinois site would have reached $30 million, however, serving as the impetus for the over month-long journey.
Polly and others are working alongside law enforcement to ensure the electromagnet makes its move on America’s highways smoothly, including through the use of rolling roadblocks. It has also been assured that the instrument will not exhibit any magnetic properties until it is restarted at Fermilab.
The massive magnet is part of a much larger project that some scientists say could eventually allow them to unravel the secrets of the Big Bang. Fermilab’s accelerators, which just happen to be the most advanced on U.S. soil, have the ability to produce muons, which could eventually allow scientists to recreate the earliest moments when the universe sprang into being and matter was formed.
According to Fermilab, the magnet will be supercooled once it arrives, part of the preparation necessary to absorb muons shot into the magnet. The experiment will allow for the dispersal of chargeless neutrinos, which will fly to side undetected and untouched. The resulting frequency will allow scientists to determine the accuracy of the existing Standard Model predictions, which physicists around the world have relied on for nearly a century.
The addition of the magnet comes as physicists around the world welcomed last year’s announcement of the discovery of the elusive Higgs Boson. The mysterious particle, discovered by CERN physicists, served as a point of criticism from U.S. scientists, who argued that additional funding for particle accelerators in the U.S. could have led to the U.S. scientists discovering the particle.
Fermilab has operated under the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Fermi Research Alliance of the University of Chicago, and the Universities Research Association since 2007. The Brookhaven National Laboratory is a United States national lab and the electromagnet, at the time of its construction, was the largest in the world.