Welcome to the Magnet Academy! You won't find any tests, formulas or cryptic science-ese here. Our goal is to explain some of the very cool work that goes on at our incredible facility in a way that won't scare away artists or English majors, yet does justice to the cutting-edge research of our renowned scientists.
We have an open admissions policy at the Magnet Academy: You don't need a Ph.D. – or even a bachelor's degree – in physics or any other science to understand this curriculum. The truth is, this stuff is just way too fascinating to limit to physicists alone. Did you know, for example, that our superconducting magnets operate at temperatures so incredibly low that they can't be found anywhere in our solar system, except in a laboratory? Or that teeny, tiny ions in a machine called an ion cyclotron orbit at speeds of 30 kilometers – 18.6 miles – per second?! Or that …
Oh – maybe we shouldn't spoil all the surprises! We invite you to dive in and explore the different topics covered here. What is superconductivity? How do MRI machines work? Why do super powerful magnets sometimes explode? How do you unlock secrets hidden in a tiny spec of comet dust?
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Click on any one of the links below to begin demystifying physics for yourself.
More Than Skin Deep: MRI Research at the Lab
When you have the most powerful MRI machine in the world, there's a lot of exciting research going on. Read about some of the cutting-edge studies we do on neurodegenerative diseases, cancer, tobacco use, muscles and more.
MRI: A Guided Tour
Now that MRIs have been around for a few decades, patients and doctors tend to take them for granted. But these awesome diagnostic tools, powered by strong superconducting magnets, save countless lives with their ability to pinpoint tumors and other abnormalities.
Magnets from Mini to Mighty
If your knowledge of magnets ends with posting a to-do list on the fridge, add this to the list: Learn more about magnets! You can start here with a straightforward rundown of magnet types, uses and strengths, explained in a way that will help make the facts stick.
Superconductivity: Current in a Cape and Thermal Tights
They don't call it super for nothing. Once you get a superconductor going, it'll keep on ticking like the Energizer Bunny, only a lot longer. The catch is, it needs to be kept colder than Pluto.
Meet the Magnets
We'd like to introduce you to a few of the amazing magnets that make the Magnet Lab so unique and make possible new discoveries in science.
What's in an Oil Drop? An Introduction to Fourier Transform Ion Cyclotron Resonance (FT-ICR)
It may look like a simple black blob, but an oil drop is in fact a phenomenally complex mix of immense (relatively speaking) molecules called hydrocarbons. Using a type of mass spectrometry called FT-ICR (in which the MagLab is a world leader), scientists can analyze oil and other macromolecules with amazing precision, uncovering important secrets in the process.
Low Temperature Physics
Why do physicists want to study things at temperatures so cold atomic motion almost comes to a halt? And how do they create such frigid environments, anyway? Read on for the what, how and why of low temperature physics.
Making Resistive Magnets
Building the world's best resistive magnets requires clever engineering, top-notch science, superior materials and an obsession with quality control.
Making Superconducting Magnets
Like most people, we'd rather pay less for electricity. Which is one reason (though not the only one) that we use and build superconducting magnets.
Cryogenics for English Majors
Fear not, right-brained friends: Science and art intersect in plenty of places, and this is one of them. Samuel Taylor Coleridge lends a hand as we explore cryogenics – how to get things fantastically frigid – and the fascinating element that makes it all possible.
Giant Magnetoresistance: The Really Big Idea Behind a Very Tiny Tool
This itsy-bitsy phenomenon makes your iPod and hard drive tick.
Mass Spectrometry: How to Weigh an Atom
It's hard enough to weigh something as itty bitty as atoms or molecules. Factor in that they're careening by faster than Jeff Gordon on steroids, and you get an idea what scientists are up against. Using comet particles from NASA's Stardust mission as an example, this article explains how scientists measure atoms, and what kind of secrets they can uncover in the process.
Team Tesla: How We Keep the World's Most Powerful Magnets in Shape
Our magnets are like world-class athletes – Team Tesla, if you will. They have an awful lot of power, but to stay in that kind of shape, they need to eat and drink – a lot.
Clean, Keen, Machining Team
The MagLab has its own machine shop, complete with an experienced, talented staff. These craftsmen collaborate closely with renowned scientists to create one-of-a-kind magnet parts that make possible experiments done nowhere else in the world.
The Magnet Academy curriculum is an ongoing project. If you believe you have found a mistake or wish to make a comment or suggestion, please send us an email.
Contributors: Kristen Eliza Coyne (writer, editor); Matthew Parry-Hill (Java tutorials); Adam Rainey (web design); Jesse Birch, Savoy Brown, Eric Hooper, Kevin John, Richard Ludlow (graphic artists).