Megamagnet Holds Promise for New Science

Monday, June 18, 2018

Magnetic resonance imaging already saves lives, yet the world’s most advanced form of spectroscopy has yet to reach its full potential in nonmedical arenas. Now, a recent breakthrough in high-magnetic-field science provides possibilities for the advancement of magnetic resonance via high-field superconducting magnets that can tolerate much stronger magnetic fields. The superconductive product requires much less power and space than conventional electromagnets, for the first time making it possible to conduct science at very high magnetic fields beyond just huge facilities, such as the National High Magnetic Laboratory (NHMFL) in Tallahassee, Florida.

It may soon be possible at UC Santa Barbara, too.

From May 17 through 19, the campus hosted “Big Mag @ UCSB,” a workshop intended to identify the transformational science that would be enabled by coupling a 32 Tesla superconducting magnet — which is about 1 million times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field — to UCSB’s terahertz free-electron laser (FEL), the only facility of its kind in the U.S. The summit brought together scientists from around the world whose research would benefit from the proposed Magnetic Resonance eXploration (MRX) facility at UCSB, the potential uses of which range from studying conformational changes in proteins to creating and probing new phases of quantum matter. 
“We want to figure out the most exciting questions in condensed-matter physics, chemistry, biology, and materials science and what would be needed from a magnet to address those questions,” said conference chair Mark Sherwin, director of UCSB’s Institute for Terahertz Science and Technology and a professor in the Department of Physics. “This workshop was an opportunity to brainstorm new use cases for the instrument, interface with partners from industry and the NHMFL, forge new collaborations, and shape the future of the proposed MRX facility.”

“Bringing a very-high-field superconducting magnet to UCSB to create the MRX facility would provide a unique opportunity to fulfill a national need and enable many experiments that cannot be done at the NHMFL,” said chemistry professor Songi Han, a member of the “Big Mag @ UCSB” program committee who has been working with Sherwin for more than a decade on filming proteins in action. “Accessing high-power pulsed magnetic resonance at magnetic fields up to 32 Tesla coupled with frequencies up to 4.5 terahertz will create a new frontier in high-magnetic-field science.”

(Mega)magnetic personalities: Songi Han and Mark Sherwin. Photograph by Sonia Fernandez.