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Fermilab’s prized supermagnet arrives in Lemont

Street closures

Because the Muon g-2 superconducting magnet is so sensitive, it can travel at top speeds of only 5 to 10 mph. To accommodate the ring’s travels, Fermilab and the Illinois Department of Transportation have coordinated highway closures at night on the route from Lemont to the Fermilab campus.

Tuesday, beginning at 9 p.m.: Closures on Lemont Road, north to 87th Street west.

Wednesday, beginning at 11:30 p.m.: I-355 north to Route 56, then west to Route 53.

Thursday, beginning at 11 p.m.: Route 53 south to I-88, then west to Ferry Road, then west to Eola Road and then north to Fermilab.

On Friday, at 5:30 p.m., Fermilab will host a celebration of the ring’s arrival. The public is invited.

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Updated: August 23, 2013 6:22AM

At long last for fans of fundamental science research, the wait was over.

Just before 5 p.m. Saturday, and almost five hours behind schedule after being stalled by barge traffic, the massive Muon g-2 ring destined for Fermilab arrived to great cheers along the Sanitary and Shipping Canal in Lemont.

The delayed arrival of the electromagnet marks the end of a long journey by sea and river aboard a barge.

Physicists and interested science enthusiasts waited for hours Saturday for its arrival at the Lemont docking point, some sauntering off between updates for lunch or to take shelter out of the summer sun, all in anticipation of the ring’s arrival.

“People are going to ask, ‘Did you hear about the giant magnet?’ ” said 13-year-old Jack Flood as he waited, perched at an observation point on the Lemont Street bridge overlooking the canal. “And I can say, ‘Yeah, I saw it.’ ”

And it is indeed something to see.

The 50-foot, 17-ton electromagnet apparatus, partially obscured by a protective white layer of shrink wrap, is so large and so sensitive that moving it has required specially designed barges and trucks as well as night-time closures of Interstate 355 and I-88 later this week.

But the impressive part is the work the ring will do when it arrives at Fermilab in Batavia. Scientists will use it to take ultra-precise measurements of the wobble of tiny subatomic particles, which will help the scientists confirm or demolish the theory behind quantum mechanics.


Many onlookers were willing to wait for the ring’s arrival Saturday afternoon. Every now and then, another tugboat came along, prompting onlookers to jump to attention and search through the scope of their cameras, although the wait time stretched across the entire afternoon, as the giant magnet was held up behind other ships through canal locks in Joliet and Lockport.

Some enthusiasts, however, had been following the ring for so long, they didn’t mind Saturday’s wait.

“We followed the ring on the Internet,” said Joe Mayer, observatory director of the Chicago Astronomical Society.

Since a lecture from a Fermilab physicist earlier this month, the 150 astrophysics enthusiasts had been tracking the ring’s journey from Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York to Fermilab, in anticipation of its arrival and the start of the Muon g-2 experiment that will seek to better understand the existence of subatomic particles.

“Astrophysics deals with both macro- and micro-level physics including subatomic particles to understand the universe. So it seems to be a very good experiment,” he said.

The Muon g-2 ring was once at the center of another physics experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.

There, the ring allowed researchers to learn about the properties of the muon, a subatomic particle similar to an electron that spins when placed in a magnetic field. The ring let researchers determine its strength and rate of gyration, or wobble, until the experiment successfully ended in 2001.

Now, physicists at Fermi, Brookhaven and Argonne National Laboratories plan to use the ring to continue that experiment at Fermilab, where the campus’ more powerful accelerators will produce more muons. The Muon g-2 ring will trap those muons and produce exacting measurements of their wobble.

In doing so, they hope to discover whether the actual results of their experiments confirm the current theories about muons and other subatomic particles.

“These are things that pop in and out of existence,” said Hogan Nguyen, lead scientist on the Muon g-2 ring. “These virtual particles are not important in everyday life, but they are important in studying Big Bang theory. This will be one way of studying those particles without recreating the Big Bang.”

Roads not traveled

But first, the ring has to get to Fermilab.

Moving the ring has proved a huge undertaking. It left Brookhaven, on Long Island, on June 22, in the back of a specially designed tractor-trailer. The ring was then transported by barge, pulled by a tugboat named Trident, south along the eastern seaboard. It was stopped for five days by storms in Virginia but then eventually made its way around Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, and then up the Mississippi River, pulled by another tugboat named Miss Katie.

It then traveled up the Illinois and Des Plaines rivers, before arriving Saturday at Lemont.

The decision to move the ring to Fermilab, rather than build an entirely new apparatus at the lab, was based in part on cost. Even with the monthlong trip and specialized hauling equipment, the “big move” — as Fermilab has dubbed the logistical feat — costs a fraction of the cost of building a new ring.

But the decision was also made, Nguyen said, because the scientists believe that connecting this specific magnet to Fermilab’s accelerators will yield the most enlightening data.

“It would be hard to build a better magnet,” said Nguyen. “It worked to perfection.”

Meanwhile, the electromagnet’s long journey is long from over.

On Sunday, the ring was hoisted by crane onto another truck, where it will sit for two days as engineers secure it for the rest of the trip overland to the Fermilab campus.

Because of the equipment’s sensitivity, the truck will only be able to travel at a top speed of 10 mph along I-355, I-88 and Eola Road. Rather than slow down morning commutes, the magnet will travel only at night, shutting down portions of the tollways on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights.

The ring is expected to arrive at Fermilab in the early hours of Friday. The public in invited to a celebration heralding its arrival later that evening.

For more information, including real-time updates on the whereabouts and schedule of the Muon g-2 ring, go to

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