southtownstar
SUITABLE 
Weather Updates

After 3,000-mile journey, giant electromagnet finally at home at Fermilab

Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: August 30, 2013 6:22AM



After its 3,000-mile journey, the behemoth Muon G-2 electromagnet ring arrived home at Fermilab in Batavia Friday night to cheers and applause from an adoring crowd of several thousand physics fans.

They gathered on the front steps of Wilson Hall, spilling out onto the lawn and driveway, peering expectantly down one of the narrow main roads through the Fermilab campus until the ring slowly came into view.

“It’s so cool, it’s huge,” said Joey Prizinski, staring off in the magnet’s direction, alongside the rest of his Oswego-based Boy Scout troop.

Lit from below and still covered in white shrink wrap, the 17-ton, 50-foot-wide Muon G-2 ring bore an uncanny resemblance to a spaceship parked atop a specialized semi even more massive than the ring itself.

Each time the horn blasted, the crowd threw up its hands and cheered loudly.

Children ran around in excitement, shouting “We love you!” to the magnet, while others marveled at the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see such a piece of equipment up close.

“It’s just nice to see something you don’t see every day,” said Marco Payal, a student in physics this coming school year at Metea Valley High School in Aurora. “It’s something I read about, and to have the opportunity to see it in person, it’s something I’ll never have the opportunity to experience again. It’s really nice to be here to see it. I like physics, it’s really cool to be here.”

When the magnet finally came to rest, the crowd cheered again and clapped, then clamored to have their photo taken with the oddity.

Now that the super-magnet has completed its 34-day journey from Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York to Fermilab, by truck, barge and truck again, the magnet will become a part of the lab’s muon complex.

There, as one of the world’s most precise tools, it will go on the hunt for subatomic particles in an effort to uphold or dismantle the Standard Model, which underlies our entire understanding of the universe.

Bringing the ring

Prior to its long journey, 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.

When physicists at Fermi, Brookhaven and Argonne National Laboratories decided they wanted to continue the experiment, using Fermilab’s more powerful accelerators to produce more muons for study, they knew they needed the Muon G-2 Ring.

“It’s the world’s more precise particle physics machine,” said Michale Tartaglia, an engineer at Fermilab not directly participating in the Muon G-2 project, but, like many other Fermilab employees, had turned out with his whole family to participate in the festivities Friday. “It’s just exciting.”

The decision to move the magnet was also a financial one. Over the past 34 days, the magnet was loaded onto a specially designed truck at Brookhaven on Long Island, transferred to a barge, floated down the Eastern seaboard, into the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi, Illinois and Des Plaines rivers, before taking three more night trips on roads through the western suburbs to Fermilab.

Despite the huge logistical feat, the cost of moving the precise magnet was $3 million, which was a tenth of the cost to build a new one at Fermilab.

Early morning arrivals

Even before it arrived at Fermilab, fans were out to get a glimpse of the ring.

Thousands followed the ring’s travels from Fermilab’s website, and showed up along the route to catch a glimpse as it floated up the Mississippi in front of the iconic St. Louis arch, as it arrived at port in Lemont and was lifted from its barge, and even while it sat between trips in a parking lot in the Bolingbrook Costco.

Dozens of magnet enthusiasts lined Eola Road awaiting the magnet’s slow approach to Fermilab’s south entrance early Friday morning, layering jackets and waiting it out in the unusually chilly, very dark night.

“All night, yeah,” said Evelyn Schneider, a Geneva resident. “I’m a guidance counselor at a high school, so it’s always neat to find out about things that are going on so you can talk to the students about it.”

And in fact her children, ages 13 and 12, were awaiting the magnet’s arrival, asleep in the car.

Schneider’s husband was also involved in the magnet’s move, as a State Police trooper assigned to guiding the magnet up the closed streets to Fermilab.

The family was just one of many that were following the magnet’s journey.

“We started hearing about it in March, and I’ve been following it move since New York,” Schneider said.

Now, following the long journey, the late-night lane closures, and the grand arrival, the Muon G-2 ring will sit, rather unceremoniously, on the Fermilab grounds.

Engineers and technicians will inspect its 400 or so pieces of delicate instrumentation for damage, but physicists won’t know for sure if the big move was a success for several months. In February, the ring’s new home, a building in the new muon complex at Fermilab, is expected to be complete, and the electromagnet can move in, according to Hogan Nguyen, lead scientist on the ring.

Once the ring is connected to the larger experiment in the new complex, and scientists flip the switch, they’ll know for sure that the huge undertaking in the name of science was worth it.

“I am relieved,” said Nguyen, on the ring’s arrival. “But at the same time we have this mound of work ahead of us. This is just the tip of the iceberg.”



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.