From the incredibly large to the incredibly small

From the incredibly large to the incredibly small

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BNL’s team works with Fermilab to unite large electromagnet with powerful accelerator

Before they can look for undiscovered particles that may only exist for an incredibly small amount of time, they have to haul something 3,200 miles that is so sensitive that a slight movement can cause damage.

Starting in the middle of this month, scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory are shipping an electromagnet that is 50 feet in diameter from its home in Upton to the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill. The weight of that electromagnet is about 35,000 pounds — or the equivalent of almost three adult African bull elephants.

The first step, which will occur on June 10 or 11, involves removing the side of a building and securing the ring on a red, octagonal pinwheel with spokes. The structure, which Emmert International built as it manages the major move, looks like an octagonal wagon wheel with long spokes.

Traveling at night, a truck carrying the electromagnet will receive a police escort as it travels at close to five miles per hour from Upton to a barge 10 miles due south of BNL at Smith Point Marina on Bellport Bay. That trip is expected to take one night.

“The trailer has eight pairs of axles, which are all hydraulically self-leveling, so that even if it hits a pothole with one, there are many other tires” to keep the ring balanced, said Chris Polly, a project manager for Fermilab.

The ring is expected to board the barge on June 16, when it will travel around the southern tip of Florida, up the Mississippi River to Illinois. The journey, including a two-night trek from the river to Fermilab, should take about six weeks.

The reason scientists are sending such a sensitive piece of equipment over such a great distance is to explore an area of nature that might expand the world of particle physics. Back in 2001, scientists at BNL found something incredibly small but potentially revolutionary, that they couldn’t explain.

High energy interactions, such as those at the Fermilab accelerator, produce muons, which, like an electron, have negative charge but are 200 times more massive. These muons exist for only 2.2 millionths of a second. However, more than a decade ago, scientists at BNL noticed that these muons gyrated as expected — up to a point.

“We look at how these muons revolve,” said William Morse, resident spokesman for muon g-2 at BNL.

The frequency of the spin axis around a magnetic field differed, albeit in a miniscule way, from what the theory predicted.

The so-called Lande g-factor should have been 2.0023318358. In the BNL experiment, however, that factor was 2.0023318416.

If the experiments found new particles, “It would be a revolution” in physics, said David Hertzog, who was a part of the original experiment in 2001 at BNL and is now a professor at the University of Washington and a spokesman for the muon g-2 effort. “The whole motivation is to figure out what is beyond the standard model.”

The findings could cause a “rewriting of our textbooks and understanding,” Hertzog added.

Scientists suspected they were on to something, but they didn’t have a precise enough measure to know for sure. By moving the electromagnet to Illinois, they are uniting one of the world’s largest superconducting magnets to the powerful accelerators that can provide a customized beam of neutrons.

Once the electromagnet arrives in Illinois, it will start generating data in 2016 and may start producing results as early as 2017 or 2018.

Morse, who was also involved with the landmark study in 2001, said those results have generated over 2,000 references in the scientific literature.

“In my previous experiments, I would have said that 20 or 30 was a lot. We do think this is kind of a unique measurement.”

Morse, who has worked at BNL since 1976, lives in East Patchogue with his wife Sara, a teacher at Bellport Methodist preschool. They have four children: Andrew, a banker; Kathleen, who works in sustainable living; David, a physics grad student; and Rachel, a respiratory therapist. Morse is a fan of the ocean, where he enjoys swimming, fishing and crabbing.

As for the benefit of the muon experiment, Morse said it will gather basic information about the world and can train a future generation of scholars, industry leaders, and researchers.

“After the last experiment at BNL [in 2001], there were quite a number of graduate students. Many of them are off doing interesting things,” Morse said. “One of them is working on developing chambers to scan cargo ships, others are at universities and some are at national labs.”