At BNL, the force is with them

BNL magnetWATCH YOUR CUFF LINKS: BNL scientists have started testing a 20-ton magnet they hope to use to track shattered atoms at the lab's ion collider.

Brookhaven National Lab researchers have been kicking the tires on a 40,000-pound superconducting magnet – basically an elephant-sized MRI – that will be used to look at shattered atoms that mirror the earliest conditions of the universe.

Kicking the tires? Well, yes, since the magnet is pre-owned, as they say in the car business, once used at Stanford’s linear accelerator program in Menlo Park, Calif.

Brookhaven Lab physicists hope to use the magnet to upgrade the PHENIX project, which tracks subatomic debris to explore the particles and forces that bind together most of the visible matter in the universe. Though used, the magnet – superconducting cables inside an aluminum core – is is in near-perfect condition and offers significant savings.

The BNL staff has already checked it out at room temperature – all systems go – and plan to chill in down to superconducting levels this summer.

That would be 4 Kelvin, or about -452 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s, um, pretty cool. And a good thing: The subatomic collisions at BNL reach temperatures 250,000 times hotter than the center of the sun, melting protons and freeing the quarks and gluons otherwise trapped inside the nucleus. The resulting quark-gluon plasma exists for a tiny fraction of a second, but it chilled the universe right after the Big Bang.

The complete PHENIX upgrade needs additional approvals. If it gets the green light, the magnet would be in full swing by 2021.

Based on reporting for BNL by Justin Eure

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