Over the past three nights, a large rig slowly traveled the roads of suburban Illinois bearing an American flag and the “Oversize Load” warning sign. The warning was perhaps an understatement.
Its “load” was a 50-foot, 17-ton electromagnet that traveled by land and sea from the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island last month. Early this morning, he reached his final destination: the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside of Chicago.
The electromagnet arrived accompanied by an impressive entourage: a dozen cars of state soldiers and more than a handful of county sheriffs and local police, as well as crews from a company called Roadsafe. , who was responsible for removing the road signs before the convoy and straightening them after it. pass. He will make his last trip to the laboratory site this afternoon.
The logistics of the move captured the imagination along the way. But beneath the spectacle hides an important and potentially revolutionary science.
The electromagnet is part of what is called the Muon g-2 experiment. Scientists in the Muon g-2 experiment are studying short-lived particles called muons, which flicker when placed in a magnetic field due to an internal conflict between some of their characteristics.
In 2001, scientists at Brookhaven used the ring to measure this oscillation. Given their current understanding of physics, scientists can predict what this should look like. If it turns out to be different than expected, it could indicate the presence of new physics.
In the first iteration of this experiment, physicists at Brookhaven found clues that the oscillation was off. Moving the experiment to Fermilab will allow it to run in a more intense particle beam (for less money than it would cost to reconstruct the experiment), giving a more precise response.
“We’ve been trying for years to really figure out if we’ve discovered anything new and exciting,” says Lee Roberts, spokesperson for Muon g-2, who started working on the experiment in 1984. “We are all delighted to see the answer. . It’s exciting for me personally, and it’s exciting for science.
To move the magnet, the Muon g-2 team worked for over a year with Emmert International, a company that subsists on moving large bulky items, to plan the trip, which involved building a light fixture. bright red to hold the ring in place (prompting many observers along the way to compare it to a UFO).
The ring is an extremely sensitive device; it cannot be bent or twisted more than a few millimeters.
“This is one of the largest, most fragile and unusual capricious projects we’ve ever done,” says Terry Emmert, owner of Emmert International. “It’s amazing to see it all come together.
The ring first saw the light of day in mid-June, when an Emmert team slipped it out of the building that had housed it since the 1990s. After a week of delayed rain, it has traveled six miles along the William Floyd Drive from Long Island – in about half the planned six hour time – to Smith Point Marina, where it was crane loaded onto a 50ft by 150ft barge and pulled by a pair of offshore tugs.
“The crane is just huge,” says Chris Polly, Muon g-2 project manager at Fermilab. “It’s a crane with a capacity of 500 tons and four or five floors, so you can take this device which weighs 60 tons. [with the support structure] and get him on the barge. The whole process went pretty well.
From there, the barge – essentially a giant floating plank – faced 3,200 miles of ocean and river waters and a month of unpredictable summer weather. He first floated from Long Island to the east coast and around Florida. The barge was forced to camp for five nights in Norfolk, Va., To wait for a passing storm. After that, the barge narrowly escaped Tropical Storm Chantal.
After having rounded the tip of Florida, the barge was to go straight up the Mississippi. Due to the strong currents, which would have caused the barges to back up at the locks, the team decided to take an alternative via secondary roads, up the Tombigbee Waterway and the Tennessee River. On July 12, the ring made a stopover in Mobile, Alabama, where Trident, the ocean going tug, handed the barge to Miss Katie, a white tug with red trim that coordinated well with the red support structure. of the electromagnet wrapped in white plastic.
Miss Katie pushed the barge into Mississippi and eventually to Lemont, Ill., Where, after a brief pit stop in the wrong harbor, she hosted a cast of over 100 scientists, family members and curious the July 20.
The Ring will complete its journey across the country later today, but its second chance to research new physics has only just begun.