How to Move a Fifteen-Ton Electromagnet

Abby Ohlheiser

How do massive electromagnets move? Incredibly slowly, if the $3 million plan to get one of them from New York to Chicago can tell us anything. The move, over land and sea, will take a total of five weeks. 

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Here's why: the 15-ton electromagnet can't just be disassembled and reassembled — it has to move with minimal tweaks to maintain its functionality. The entire rig is about 50 feet wide, and if it twists more than an eight of an inch, it could break for good. Given that it's ten times cheaper to move the magnet than it is to build a new one, researchers will take their chances transporting it to Chicago's Fermi lab in an inert state, where it's needed for a new experiment. According to the Associated Press, the 3,200-mile trip will go something like this: 

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Day One: move the magnet from its place at the Brookhaven National Lab to the lab's front gate, nearly 2 miles away.

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Day Two: Somehow transport it down the  William Floyd Parkway to the ocean, 6 miles away. That's two days to move fewer than 10 miles. 

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Here's a model of the rig they'll use to transport it: 

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Source: Brookhaven National Laboratory

And a video! 

According to Brookhaven, they'll only drive the rig at night, at a top speed of 10 miles an hour. 

That will get them about this far (route is very, very approximate): 


Source: Google Maps

Day Three, etc.: get that thing on a boat. The bulk of the magnet's trip will be on water. It'll head south, go around Florida, and use the Mississippi river to get as close to the Fermi lab as possible. 

Then, it's a two-day journey over land for a few miles to the lab. Once it's in place, the massive magnet will help researchers learn more about subatomic particles called muons. They live for 2.2 millionths of a second, and there's a lot the field of particle physics has to learn about them. The magnet move begins next Saturday.