A gigantic set of steel and aluminum rings 50 feet across, the electromagnet at the heart of the Muon g-2 storage ring, will soon make a 3,200-mile trip from Brookhaven National Laboratory to Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. This high-tech loaner will be used to study muons, particles that burst into existence and flame out again before you can say yolo.
What Is A Muon?
If the last science class you took described a vacuum as empty space, guess again. As it turns out, no space is empty. A vacuum is actually a boiling sea of muons, virtual particles that act like spinning magnets, but not for long. Their lifespan is about 2.2 millionths of a second.
The Muon g-2 (pronounced g-minus-2) storage ring enables researchers to study muons by sending particle beams through a magnetic field. It’s a complex, sensitive piece of equipment but the long trip is worth the risk.
Back in the 1990’s, Muon g-2 produced evidence that predictions about the behavior of muons in a magnetic field might need to be adjusted. The problem was that researchers at Brookhaven needed a much more intense beam of muons in order to confirm their results. Fermilab has just such a beam-producing device, hence the trip.
Think of it as a massive, 3,200 mile trek over to the neighbor’s to borrow their weed whacker, and there you have it.
Why We Care About Muons
As for why CleanTechnica is caring about muons all of a sudden, we don’t, at least not particularly, unless it has something to do with sustainable tech. However, we do care when certain legislators try to kneecap research and development projects and when high-profile pundits make fun of foundational research projects just because they have odd-sounding names, so in light of all the research-bashing that has been going on lately, we’re taking a preemptive step in support of our muon-loving friends.
For the record, this is going to happen when g-2 gets reassembled at Fermilab:
“Scientists from three Department of Energy national laboratories, Fermilab, Brookhaven and Argonne, along with scientists from seven foreign countries and more than a dozen U.S. universities [about 100 scientists all together] are collaborating on a new physics experiment that will probe fundamental properties of matter and space. Muon g-2 …is an Intensity Frontier experiment that will allow researchers to peer into the subatomic world to search for undiscovered particles that may be hiding in the vacuum.”
Also, for the record, this deal is coming cheap. It would cost about ten times more to build a new storage ring than it will to bring g-2 to Fermilab.
To keep up with all the latest news on the trip, check out muon-g-2.final.gov.
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