Darwin Hall Home to Powerful New Magnet System

jeremyqualls.jpgBoasting a field strength 34,000 times stronger than the Earth's magnetic field, the Cryomagnetics 17 Tesla superconducting magnet system is now online at Sonoma State University, signifying the inclusion of a powerful new instrument to probe the frontier of science.

Thanks to the efforts of Physics Professor Jeremy Qualls, who brought many components of his previous research endeavors to SSU, a new research lab is being used by students and collaborators to explore the outer reaches of magnetic fields.

These fields will allow researchers to map out the electronic states of conductors and probe the correlation between crystal structure and observed behaviors. The experiences gained using these magnetic fields at low temperatures are hard to find outside of major national labs and will provide students with a unique and invaluable experience.

The highlights of the system - which is housed in the University's High Magnetic Field Laboratory - include the ability to provide incredibly high magnetic fields at extremely low temperatures down to 1.5 Kelvin (-456.97 Fahrenheit), and the ability to measure sample properties. Students in Quall's Intermediate Physics Laboratory course have already begun using the system to characterize samples with temperatures as low as 4 Kelvin (-452.47 Fahrenheit).

magnet_b.jpgBy combining the new capabilities of the magnet system with the existing instrumentation provided by the William Keck Microanalysis Laboratory in Salazar Hall, SSU has an incredible ability to explore science in materials.

Magnetic properties of materials are very important in developing new technologies, for example, digital detectors that can be used in cameras, materials for computer memory or disk drives, and materials that can be semi-conductors, which are used in computer chips.

In order to create these new materials, scientists have to understand how they react in a magnetic field. The Cryomagnetics system is a valuable tool for testing the magnetic properties of those materials, and observing how the strong magnetic field affects them.

The magnet system took two and a half years to make operational, and was brought online by a group of physics students and technicians on May 4, 2010. The road to bringing the magnet system online at SSU was a long one, with several setbacks along the way. The first time the system was cooled in Darwin Hall, the inner chamber ruptured and the 1000-pound system had to be shipped back to the vendor to be repaired.

During the second time it was cooled, the seals gave way to ice formation inside the magnet and the system had to be warmed up. The third time was the charm, however, and the system is now fully operational.

A $237,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, along with SSU start-up funds and resources from the School of Science and Technology, supported the project.

The research is attractive both in the scope of the science and in the potential for commercial application. The experiences undergraduates receive in Quall's research lab often set them apart from others and dramatically improve their chances at entering strong graduate programs or a technical career.

Over the last five years a number of students from his lab have been quite successful, going on to graduate programs at Cornell University, Texas A&M, and the University of New Mexico.

For more information on the Cryomagnetics superconducting magnet system at Sonoma State University, visit the Department of Physics and Astronomy website at http://www.phys-astro.sonoma.edu/facilities.shtml.

ABOVE TOP, Physics Professor Jeremy Qualls brought the superconducting magnet system to SSU to provide many unusual research opportunities to students.

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