How to move a 17-ton particle physics experiment 3,200 miles

The sign on that truck is stating the blazingly obvious as it pulls the 50-foot long Muon g-2 electromagnet along its convoluted journey from Long Island to Chicago. Once installed at Fermilab, the device will help scientists measure the internal magnetic workings of the mysterious muon particle.

Muons are subatomic particles that have a ridiculously short lifespan, living for about two-millionths of a second. But the $30 million Muon g-2 ring can capture and store these muons, allowing scientist to measure its magnetic wobble to a precision of one part in 10 million. And if that wobble differs from theoretical predictions, it could hint at the existence of undiscovered particles.

And in fact, earlier experiments have suggested that this is the case. By moving the device to Fermilab, particle physicists hope to further their experiments by taking advantage of Fermilab's superior equipment.

How to move a 17-ton particle physics experiment 3,200 miles

This 3,200-mile land and sea journey took years to plan, and is a collaboration between two national laboratories, Brookhaven and Fermilab.

How to move a 17-ton particle physics experiment 3,200 miles

The Guardian explains the significance of the Muon g-2 and why it had to be moved:

Amazingly this unique apparatus was constructed in the 1990s at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island in the form of a 15 metre diameter ring of superconducting magnets and when it was used to measure the muon's magnetic interaction there was a surprise: it differed from the prediction by almost 4 standard deviations. Not enough to claim a discovery but enough to create some excitement and over 2,000 publications have referenced this 2004 result and those preceding it, offering a plethora of explanations ranging from the mundane to the bizarre.

Many expected the LHC to see a host of new particles and so this measurement that differed from expectations was sadly left at the altar. But with the LHC so far only seeing a Higgs boson and nothing anomalous there is a renewed interest in repeating this measurement with a greater precision to determine unambiguously whether the muon's magnetic interactions really are showing evidence for new physics.

Thanks to accelerator improvements at Fermilab it's now possible to repeat this measurement with many more muons than was possible at Brookhaven and with a better control of the systematic uncertainties. The only obstacle is the slight matter of moving the magnet 900 miles from Long Island to Chicago. The magnet has to be moved in one piece since breaking it up would destroy the uniformity of the magnetic field that is needed for the measurement and it has to be transported without the ring twisting more than 3mm. This is achieved by encasing the ring in glorified cling-film on a special hydraulically leveling trailer and hiring a truck, barge and a careful driver.

How to move a 17-ton particle physics experiment 3,200 miles

The journey, which began on June 22nd, is expected to take five weeks (see the realtime map). The first data is not expected until 2016.

This video shows day three, when the ring was lifted from the truck onto a waiting barge at the Smith Point Marina on Long Island, NY.

Images: Andre Salles, Fermilab; FNAL/BNL.