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Los Alamos fires BLOODY BIG MAGNET

Even better: it didn’t smash itself to bits

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They call it their own “moon shot”, but there isn’t – unfortunately – any “oh wow” visual when you fire a 100-plus Tesla magnet: just a powerful new instrument to use in physics and materials science.

At the end of last week, the Los Alamos National Laboratory held its breath and pressed “ok” to see if its planned magnet run, trying to briefly generate a magnet “roughly two million times Earth’s magnetic field”, would work. It did, and unlike other giant magnets, it survives for more experiments.

(For those who would like a comparison they can hold in their hand: it’s about a million times your average 100 Gauss fridge magnet, since there are 10,000 Gauss to one Tesla – and well over triple the magnetic fields used for MRI scans).

The success of the run means the 1,200 megajoule, 18,000-pound (more than 8,100kg) monster magnet is now open for business, with its experimental program already oversubscribed.

As the LANL cheerfully notes, this isn’t the biggest magnetic field ever: however, it’s the first time the magnet that created such a high output has survived the process: “There are higher magnetic fields produced elsewhere, but the magnets that create such fields blow themselves to bits in the process.”

The 100.75 Tesla run, with the magnet still intact, means researchers can now plan the use of the magnet in a range of experiments including examining electronic structures, studying quantum phase transitions, ultra high field magnetic states, and topologically protected states of matter.

In this video, Chuck Mielke at LANL’s National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (NHMFL) explains how the structure was able to survive the 100 Tesla field: “A 2.4 megajoule capacitor bank is used to energize the smaller magnet, inside a much larger magnet, to distribute these huge forces across a very massive magnet system,” he said.

LANL’s partners in the NHMFL are Florida State University and the University of Florida. The first 100 Tesla-plus run carried experiments for Rutgers University, McMaster University, the University of Puerto Rico, University of Minnesota, Cambridge University, the University of British Columbia, Oxford University, and France’s École Nationale Supérieure d’Ingénieurs de Caen (ENSICAEN).

Their experiments had been tested in lower magnetic fields prior to last week’s run. ®

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