A New Particle Accelerator Magnet Just Broke the Ramping Speed Record

Bringing us a step closer to next-gen particle accelerators.
Chris Young
Fermilab's magnet test setupRyan Postel/Fermilab

Magnets play a massive role in the bleeding edge of scientific research. Whether it's enabling new experiments in nuclear fusion or particle physics, more powerful magnets mean more breakthroughs.

Now, physicists at the Fermi National Particle Accelerator Laboratory have developed a magnet that allowed them to demonstrate the world's fastest ramping rates for a particle accelerator, a press statement reveals. It's a breakthrough that could enable particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) to run using higher energy levels than ever before.

The problem with superconducting magnets

A magnet's ramping rate is the time it takes to generate its magnetic field once it receives electrical current. The higher the energy of the particles speeding through a particle accelerator, the stronger the magnetic fields needed to keep the experiment in operation. The LHC, for example, calls for magnets of roughly eight tesla to enable its investigation into the Higgs boson, and other phenomena such as dark matter and "ghost particles," or neutrinos. Nuclear fusion reactor experiments, meanwhile, such as the Bill Gates-backed SPARC have reached unprecedented levels of 20 tesla.

The problem is that, in the LHC, it takes about 20 minutes for its superconducting magnets to reach the required level. That's due to a slow ramp rate of about 0.006 tesla per second. Though superconducting magnets do provide great magnetic strength, the fastest-ramping high-energy particle accelerators actually use copper conductors that operate at room temperature. These, however, provide a lower peak magnetic field strength. One example is the 3 GeV proton ring at JPARC in Japan, which has a magnetic field that charges at a rate of 70 tesla per second (T/s), reaching a peak of 1.1 tesla.

A boost for future particle accelerator projects

In order to find a solution for slow ramping rates in superconducting materials, the researchers at the Fermi National Particle Accelerator Laboratory built a magnet out of a superconducting material called yttrium barium copper oxide (YBCO). The new magnet, detailed in a research paper, was shown to ramp up at a rate of 290 tesla per second and reach a peak magnetic field strength of approximately 0.5 tesla. Though this is far from the eight tesla required for the LHC, the team behind the new magnet said the peak magnetic field strength could be increased by upping the electrical current running through the material.

In their statement, the researchers explained that the "development of these fast-cycling magnets is critical for future neutrino research, featuring rapid-cycling proton synchrotrons, particle injectors for the proposed Future Circular Collider, and the design of pulsed muon colliders." Next, they said they will continue to work with the material to see if they can find other ways to boost the peak magnetic field strength and maybe even improve the ramping rate. Ultimately, they hope their research might play a vital role in the upcoming 100-km (62-mile) Future Circular Collider, which is expected to be operational around the year 2040, or maybe even that proposed particle accelerator for the Moon

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