Superconducting Magnets of the Future in the Making at CERN

Superconducting Nb3Sn Cable

A niobium-tin cable (Nb3Sn), showing the single strands, partially unwrapped. Credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN

Over the past thirty years, the exploration of the infinitely small has gone hand-in-hand with advances in superconducting magnets. The increasingly powerful hadron colliders, from the Tevatron, commissioned in 1983, to the LHC in 2008, have led to spectacular discoveries thanks to superconducting magnets used on an unprecedented scale. Accelerator experiments, pioneering the use of superconducting magnets, have also benefited from superconductivity, while stimulating their developments.

The experiments and accelerators have so far used the niobium-titanium composite material, whose performance limits have been reached with the LHC. Increasing the luminosity or energy of the colliders requires higher magnetic fields and, therefore, new superconductors. This is the path that CERN has embarked on with the High-Luminosity LHC, developing magnets based on the niobium-tin compound that generate stronger fields.

The May/June issue of the CERN Courier devotes its cover and a feature article to developments in superconducting magnets. Luca Bottura, Head of CERN’s Magnets, Superconductors and Cryostats Group, reports on the progress of superconductor technology, the promises and challenges of niobium-tin for the HL-LHC and the FCC, and, beyond that, the potential of high-temperature superconductors. With several niobium-tin magnets undergoing tests or ready for installation, and major developments in progress, CERN is a pioneering laboratory in this technological adventure.

3 Comments on "Superconducting Magnets of the Future in the Making at CERN"

  1. Austin Aaronson | June 24, 2020 at 12:10 pm | Reply

    This megalithic proposal represents a disturbing trend of tax-subsidized, wasteful spending on the ivory tower agenda of elite academia. LHC, already touted as the ‘most complex (and expensive) machine ever constructed’, gave us the Higg’s boson – a discovery of dubious benefit that has yet to lead to a single, practical benefit. Now we’re going to hemhorrage exponentially more on money on the same kind of nonsense? If the average citizen had any inkling as to how much money is being sucked into this vortex, she’d be appalled. At the very least, it is reasonable for the beleaguered taxpayer to insist upon a proposed practical application of the theory tested, if not the nuts-and-bolts technology itself.

    The people pushing this agenda – CERN and the western democracies that insist on gratifying its vacuous ideas and voracious fiscal appetite – should be ashamed of what they’re doing. This is particularly true when there are so many vital, even existential, societal issues that could be addressed using the same resources. Here’s a novel idea: I know I’m going out on a limb, but how about taking the same amount of money, and using it to address the climate change crisis, for example?

    This is your humble citizen pleading with academia: Once you’ve done an honest day’s work – maybe by creating commercially viable nuclear fusion – then come back to me and ask if you can borrow the car for your hot evening date.

    This is your poor constituent pleading with our corrupt politicians again: Show me how you’re spending my money. If you’re not too afraid, ashamed, or concerned about lining your own pockets, submit this proposal for a public referendum with a simple, practical cost-benefit analysis. (Particularly costs). While your at it, put a competing referendum on the ballot: Commercially viable nuclear fusion.

    Let’s see, you can either: A. Have 23 billion (that’s right, with a ‘b’) of my hard earned money to humor your idle curiosity about the illusive Higg’s boson; or B. You can take the same money and go solve the global climate change crisis.

    In reality, I regret the saccharine tenor of this rhetoric, but I feel it’s necessary in order to get the point across. Have we all lost our minds, or are we going to actually do something sensible and practical?
    Austin Aaronson [email protected]

  2. Steve Nordquist | June 24, 2020 at 11:44 pm | Reply

    No special claim to meanness of citizenship, but I read it differently though without awareness to niobium mining break-even. Keep making effective medicine, regular conductors, recycling and other measures cheaper please.

  3. I choose C) Both.
    And raise your taxes.

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