More than a Magnet Factory

David Harding

David Harding, acting head of the Technical Division, wrote this column.

Back in 1983, when I first really became aware of Technical Division, then named Technical Support Section, it was generally referred to as The Magnet Factory. That was indeed an apt description, though not fully reflecting the R&D and design aspects that had led to the construction of well over 1,000 superconducting magnets for the Tevatron. At the time, I was focused on the conventional magnets being designed, built and tested for the Antiproton Source. I was a customer and didn’t see any further than that.

I moved from Accelerator Division to Technical Division in 1997, and as with any transition from onlooker to insider, my understanding of TD expanded dramatically. When people ask me what TD does, I still sometimes say offhandedly, “We build big stuff for accelerators.” But then I must elaborate.

TD has certainly seen a long string of other magnet projects, big and small, since 1983. But there have also been a couple of big detector projects in that time — the CDF endcap calorimeter upgrade and the CMS endcap muon chamber construction. More recently, TD has taken a major role in superconducting radio-frequency (SRF) cavity development, to the point that we are now among the world leaders in the field.

Because we need to wring every bit of possible performance from the magnets and the SRF accelerator cavities, we also must do fundamental research and development on the underlying material properties, along with detailed engineering design and studies. The materials research addresses basic material sciences issues, but it is always focused on real accelerators. Our target is not necessarily to set abstract world records, but rather to build the very best accelerator components and make them reliably. The most effective path to higher, repeatable performance is through a basic understanding of the materials.

In the last year TD scientists have made significant breakthroughs in processing both superconducting wires and SRF cavities for the next generations of accelerators. The wire processing R&D has a long way to go — perhaps a decade of work — before we use it to build whole, useful magnets. This makes it important to continue our research to prepare for the future. The SRF processing techniques also require further intense study before we are confident that we can reliably achieve the promising results seen so far. Still, we expect to employ the new SRF processing techniques in cavities for cryomodules that will be built in the next several years for use in real accelerators.

We do build big stuff for accelerators, but like the name “The Magnet Factory,” the description understates the breadth and depth of our work. We draw strongly on multiple research areas to design, construct and test components that will be part of the next world-class accelerators.