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Giant Electromagnet Moves to Permanent Home at Fermilab

The electromagnet at Fermilab
The Muon g-2 electromagnet rests in front of its new home at Fermilab. The ring-shaped device was moved into the building on July 30, 2014. (Image credit: Fermilab)

A giant but delicate electromagnet has finally moved into its custom-made home in Illinois, a year after completing a cautious voyage from New York over land and sea.

Last week, the 50-foot-wide (15 meters) centerpiece of the Muon g-2 particle physics experiment was transferred to a new building at the U.S. Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, or Fermilab, in Batavia, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

"We're all very excited to see this device move that last mile and be put in place," Chris Polly, project manager for the Muon g-2 experiment, said in a statement from Fermilab. "For those of us who have been working on this for years, it's a great moment, and it brings us closer to taking data and having our questions answered." [Photos: Electromagnet's Big Move from New York to Illinois]

Once housed at Brookhaven National Lab on Long Island, the ring-shaped electromagnet made its $3-million move to Batavia last summer. It traveled most of the 3,200-mile (5,000 kilometers) journey by barge, cruising down the East Coast, around the tip of Florida and up the Mississippi River. After the electromagnet arrived in port in Lemont, Illinois, a police-escorted caravan brought the strange cargo to Fermilab. It arrived on July 26, 2013.

But Fermilab officials had to wait another year to put the electromagnet in its permanent home while construction work was underway on a new building to house the experiment. Over last week, the ring was finally moved across the Fermilab campus and slowly pulled into place on huge metal tracks in the newly finished building.

When the Muon g-2 experiment begins in 2017, the giant electromagnet will be used to capture and store muons, rare subatomic particles that Fermilab describes as "heavy cousins of electrons."

Previous experiments at Brookhaven suggested, but didn't prove, that muons do not "wobble" as predicted by the Standard Model (the reigning theory of particle physics) when placed in a magnetic field. Physicists hope to get to the bottom of this discrepancy at Fermilab, which is home to an accelerator complex that can generate a more intense and pure beam of muons than Brookhaven's machines. They expect they might find new particles or hidden subatomic forces.

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Megan Gannon
Megan Gannon
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.