Touring the National High Magnetic Field Lab

Did you know that the way to produce extremely high magnetic fields* is to blow up the magnet? The energy density to achieve high fields isn’t stable and the thing blows apart. Scientists will set up experiments to study small crystals, and collect data, knowing the ultimate end is a vaporized sample, but lovely data.

This is an un-intentionally destroyed electromagnet. This happens often in the testing phase for these systems.

Fortunately for scientists who wish to keep their sample, there is the new 100 Tesla pulsed magnet system at LANL. They broke the world record this last March, but they’re still working on a more stable configuration for this new technology.

One cannot take pictures at the National High Magnetic Field Lab, or any other place on the lab site, so I’ve included a few google images. This was our tour guide, he is the lab director, background in Condensed Matter, and most of his stories involved explosions.

I learned about things blowing up from this man.

My favorite story is that of the generator pictured below. It was not built in Los Alamos, it was shipped, originally from Switzerland, by the Tennessee Valley power authority. After Three Mile Island, the restrictions on building Nuclear power plants ended the TVA’s plans. They sold it at scrap metal prices to Los Alamos who brought it overland from Louisiana, first by train, then by a giant land tractor. The Army Corps of Engineers was used to make sure it got over every bridge on its way in. Then after two years of work on the generator, the project it was brought in for (a laser fusion project) was shut down, and the NHMFL got its full use.

*If you’re a geek and wondering what I mean by extremely high, I mean 200-1000 Tesla.


About mcddanielle

nature loving geek
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