1 February 2014

The HiPER 9 tesla magnet

This MagLab biophysicist is working on an HIV vaccine.


Stroll by physicist Steve Hill’s lab on the MagLab’s first floor, and you’re likely to stop short and stare. That’s how most folks react when they first see HiPER.

HiPER is a 9-tesla magnet, and only the second one of its kind. The first is in Scotland; its Scottish builders came to the lab in 2012 to help put the MagLab’s new HiPER together.

HiPER magnetThe HiPER 9 Tesla Magnet.

The Scots nicknamed HiPER — a scientific tool so large it would fill an average living room — their “witches hat” machine because of the 29 black, hat-sized cones that cover parts of it. You won’t find such cones on other MagLab instruments. This unique magnet has these strange cones to absorb pulses of radiation. Essentially, the cones are the scientific equivalent of soundproof insulation in a music studio: They absorb echoes from microwaves that would otherwise skew the test data. The wild-looking HiPER is a type of Electron Paramagnetic Resonance (EPR) machine.

EPR instruments detect the presence of unpaired (or free) electrons in a material. While free electrons are often short lived, they play critical roles in many processes, including photosynthesis and oxidation.

HiPER is actually an acronym-like scientific reference to this wild-looking machine’s ability to use High-Performance electron resonance to search for free electrons in a material. Technical adjustments are still being made to HiPER, but researchers should be able to use it in late 2014. Until then, Dr. Likai Song, who is both a medical doctor and a physicist, is experimenting with the magnet for his research. Dr. Song is part of a large, multigroup collaborative effort to create a vaccine for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus.

This story was originally published in Issue 10 of flux magazine, a discontinued publication of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.