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Look, Up in the Sky – It’s SUPER Magnets

Okay, that was lame but this news sure isn’t.

In central New Jersey, a research initiative is taking shape at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). Led by principal engineer Yuhu Zhai, the lab is constructing a new High-Field Magnet Test Facility. This facility will provide powerful magnets for scientific experiments to researchers at PPPL, Princeton University, and private companies along the mid-Atlantic coast. The magnets being built will generate magnetic fields ranging from three to five teslas and beyond. To put this into perspective, a one-tesla magnetic field is 20,000 times stronger than Earth’s magnetic field at its surface. The research conducted at the magnet lab could lead to the development of stronger, more efficient, and affordable magnets for tokamaks – doughnut-shaped devices used to confine plasma, the electrically charged state of matter composed of electrons and atomic nuclei. Scientists worldwide are exploring the use of plasma to harness fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars, in order to generate electricity without emitting greenhouse gases or producing long-lived radioactive waste.

This research project at the PPPL in New Jersey aims to advance our understanding and capabilities in fusion energy, a clean and sustainable source of electricity. By building a new High-Field Magnet Test Facility, scientists and engineers are working together to develop powerful magnets that can confine plasma in tokamaks. These magnets will produce magnetic fields thousands of times stronger than Earth’s magnetic field. The insights gained from this research could pave the way for more efficient and affordable fusion energy systems, which have the potential to provide a virtually limitless supply of electricity without harming the environment. By harnessing the power of fusion, we can unlock a brighter and cleaner future for generations to come.

Testing Tweaks

In contrast to the typical permanent magnets used for holding art on refrigerator doors, electromagnets derive their properties from the flow of electricity through wires. These magnets usually require specialized materials called superconductors, which exhibit the best electrical conductivity when cooled to extremely low temperatures using liquid helium. However, Zhai and his colleagues have devised a more advanced cooling technique known as conduction cooling, which involves direct contact between objects to transfer heat. Additionally, these magnets will feature spacious central tunnels, approximately 2.5 feet in diameter, enabling scientists to employ larger probes in their research and providing easier access to high magnetic fields for experimentation purposes.

Dark Matter Hypothesis

Scientists at the magnet lab are working on an exciting project. They are building a powerful magnet for a device developed by Princeton University. This device aims to test a hypothesis about a mysterious substance called dark matter. Dark matter is invisible and makes up about 25% of the universe. The researchers are searching for tiny particles called “axions” that have never been observed before.

The magnet being built for this device will produce a strong magnetic field and have a diameter of about three feet. It is a crucial component of the experiment and plays a key role in its success. The Princeton scientists plan to use this magnet to convert axions into photons, which are particles of light. By detecting this light, they hope to indirectly confirm the existence of axions.

In addition to the magnet, the device will include light detectors, computers for data analysis, and a container to maintain the low temperatures required for the equipment to function properly. The scientists aim to turn on the device in three or four years and continue operating it for another three or four years, collecting data and publishing papers along the way.

Detecting axions is a challenging task due to their incredibly small numbers. Axions are believed to be a million billion times lighter than a proton, one of the particles found at the center of an atom. The light produced when an axion interacts with a magnetic field is extremely weak, about four septillion times weaker than the light from a typical light bulb. However, recent technological advancements have made it possible to detect this faint axion light.

This project is an exciting endeavor that could provide valuable insights into the nature of dark matter. The scientists are eagerly working towards their goal and look forward to the potential discoveries that lie ahead.

The success of the dark matter magnet project will have significant implications for both PPPL’s engineering capabilities and its research portfolio. According to Zhai, this achievement showcases PPPL’s ability to support both internal and external projects, and establishes its presence in the world of high-energy particle physics at the cosmic frontier. Additionally, it will demonstrate our proficiency in constructing magnets with the strength required for future tokamaks, and potentially for future fusion demonstration power plants. Undoubtedly, this is an exhilarating period of progress and innovation.

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