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1 December 2015

Matching magnets with scientists

MagLab scientists discuss experiments proposed for the DC Field Facility. MagLab scientists discuss experiments proposed for the DC Field Facility. Stephen Bilenky

This week at the lab, scientists in the DC Field Facility met to determine what experiments will take place in some of the world’s largest magnets next year.

Scientists from all over the world apply to use these magnets, which are available for free, and demand always exceeds supply. Most of the dozen high-field magnets housed there, including the world-record 45 tesla hybrid magnet, use a lot of electricity. This limits how many magnets the facility can operate at a time, which in turn limits the number of scientists who can do experiments there.

"We have a limited resource we need to distribute," DC Field Facility Director Tim Murphy told a group of fellow physicists charged with deciding which of the 47 experiment proposals to select for the 33 “magnet time” spaces available in the upcoming cycle.

The group gathers three times a year to assess and select proposals, judging them on several criteria. How feasible is the work? Did the scientist’s previous experiments at the MagLab result in interesting findings or publications? What did the external reviewers who graded the proposal think about the science?

Sometimes researchers who request a stronger magnet are assigned to another instrument so that they can first obtain results at a lower field. Other times, an exciting proposal that might not yield the hoped-for results gets the green light because it’s the type of high-risk, high-reward experiment that might just be the next big Nature paper.

"Sometimes you have to go for it," said MagLab physicist Stan Tozer.

Researchers who made the cut this week will be notified by mid-December (after staff complete the scheduling process) and conduct their experiments between January and May of next year.

Photo by Stephen Bilenky / Text by Kristen Coyne

Last modified on 1 December 2015