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Electromagnet Weighing 15 Tons Headed for a Difficult Journey

Jun 17, 2013 03:51 PM EDT

Moving a 15-ton electromagnet from Long Island to Chicago is no easy task: in all, the journey scheduled to begin June 22 is estimated to take more than a month as it travels over land and sea toward its new home at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

"When we first started thinking about this, we all thought it wouldn't be possible," Bill Morse, a physicist at Brookhaven National Lab on eastern Long Island, told The Wall Street Journal. "But if you have a big problem, you find good people who can fix the problem. That's physics."

First built in the 1990s, the electromagnet was originally the largest in the world. However, some 20 years later, it is no longer of use for the Brookhaven scientists who are shipping it to Illinois where it will be employed in a new experiment designed to study the properties of the subatomic particles call muons.

Chris Polly, manager of the project, said a better understanding of the short-lived particles (they only last for 2.2 millionths of a second) could lead to a better understanding of particles physics.

The 3,200-mile trip to Fermi laboratories may sound round-about for two cities separated by a mere 800 or so miles, but the scientists say it's the cheapest route in the end, according to LiveScience.

In all, the transfer will cost an approximately $3 million, which represents just one-tenth of the total costs should Polly and his team reconstruct another of their own.

Made of aluminum and steel with superconducting coils inside, the magnet cannot be taken apart or twisted more than one-eighth of an inch without irreparably damaging the coils, The Wall Street Journal reported. For this reason, the trip requires a specially designed truck and barge.

Furthermore, the journey will be done in bite sizes, with the first day consisting solely of moving it from its location on the Brookhaven campus to the front gate - a distance of just 1.8 miles. Next, the magnet will travel south along the William Floyd Parkway for 6 miles to Smith Point Park on the Atlantic Ocean where it will be loaded onto a barge that will carry it down the East Coast and up the Mississippi, Illinois and Des Plaines Rivers before being loaded onto truck again for a two-day journey to the Chicago.

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