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Force of attraction: China to build world’s most powerful pulsed magnet

South China Morning Post logo South China Morning Post 28/09/2022 Stephen Chen
  • Construction on pulsed high magnetic field facility in Wuhan began on Tuesday
  • Facility could help researchers develop new semiconductors, 6G telecommunications, life-saving drugs

China launched construction of the world's most powerful pulsed magnet facility in the city of Wuhan on Tuesday.

The upgraded pulsed high magnetic field facility at Huazhong University of Science and Technology will produce a short - but extremely strong - magnetic field at 110 Tesla, more than two million times stronger than that of the Earth.

The current record of 100 Tesla for pulsed magnetic field is held by a facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the US state of New Mexico.

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The strongest pulsed magnetic field that China can generate at present is 70 Tesla.

China already holds the record for the strongest steady magnetic field ever produced on Earth by humans. The Chinese Academy of Sciences' High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Hefei, Anhui province said in August it created a stable magnetic field as strong as 45.22 Tesla for research that requires long periods of operation.

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The new Chinese facility will take five years to build and cost more than 2 billion yuan (US$276 million), Science and Technology Daily reported.

Potential users have already lined up to conduct experiments with the new pulsed magnet, according to the official newspaper run by the Ministry of Science and Technology.

They include engineers working on classified "high-powered electromagnetic projects", scientists developing new superconductors and semiconductors, researchers involved in next-generation 6G communication technology, and scientists hoping to unlock the secrets of human biology.

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A pulsed magnetic field is designed to allow scientists to observe material structures, subatomic particle behaviours and life processes in an extreme environment. Experts say such scientific observations would be impossible to make under normal circumstances.

Using the strongest-ever pulsed magnetic field, scientists hope to make breakthroughs in research areas ranging from carbon-based computer chips and stealth technology to high-power microwave weapons and new life-saving drugs.

In an interview in April with the same newspaper, the project team said they wanted to transform the facility to attract research talent from around the globe.

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"At present, the vast majority of the staff of the centre are Communist Party members. The goals of party building and scientific research are in the same direction. With open operation, scientific research and talent training, the 'red magnet' will have a stronger global appeal," said the team, according to the report.

Construction of the new magnet is expected to be challenging and risky. According to the report, workers will be required to wind fine metal wires around the magnet while wearing hazmat suits for several hours in a confined environment filled with poisonous gas.

Creating such a strong magnetic field is difficult. The magnet requires an electric generator that can produce more than a gigawatt of power and special materials that can absorb the heat and shocks generated by the pulse.

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Conducting magnetic experiments can also be dangerous. In 2018, a research team in Japan briefly created the strongest controllable magnetic field in history at 1,200 Tesla. But the experiment was so powerful it destroyed the magnet and blew the laboratory's blast door off its hinges.

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This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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