Students under the direction of Nuclear Physics Professor Matt Redshaw are building a mass spectrometer in the Dow Science Complex.
Assembly began in 2012 and is conducted by graduate and undergraduate physics students. Last fall, a 12-Tesla superconducting magnet was donated to Central Michigan University from the University of Texas, after they shut down a similar lab.
The project is spearheaded by Redshaw, who has previous experience with superconducting magnets from research at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University.
“One of the main things is the relationship between energy and mass,” Redshaw said. “For example, through E=MC^2, measuring mass can tell you about the amount of energy that is used to bind an atom together.”
The device is planned for use in measuring the masses of particles to determine the energy required to bind protons and neutrons in an atom.
Redshaw began work on the mass spectrometer at the time of his hire in 2012, receiving funding for the project as part of a start-up package and repurposing costs from the university. According to Redshaw, installation costs have tallied about $250,000 so far.
The magnet was too large to fit into the service elevator, so a hole was dug into the side of the building and fit through a gap made in the basement wall.
Although the ongoing process won’t come to fruition for several years, students are running simulations and constructing the components that will be installed in the future.
Lake Orion senior Richard Bryce has worked for half a year, starting last semester and continuing over the summer to this semester. Bryce is running computer simulations on the process of creating ions with a powerful laser that removes them off a solid object for use in experiments.
“It’s always good to do research as an undergrad, if you have the opportunity,” Bryce said. “I knew I wanted to do experimental physics, but I wasn’t sure what exactly and I also knew that Dr. Redshaw was affiliated with NSCL, and I thought it’d be a great opportunity to gain some experience.”
A charged particle is sent around a strong magnetic field produced by the superconducting magnet. The magnet is then cooled with liquid helium to create a continuous magnetic field along coils of wire. Particles of higher mass revolve more slowly than lighter masses, so measuring the motion frequencies will allow Redshaw and his students to determine the mass.
The magnet can generate a magnetic field of 120,000 gauss, roughly half a million times stronger than earth’s magnetic force.
Redshaw is also interested in examining neutrinos released when a particle radioactively decays.
“These are very light, but we know that they have some mass.” Redshaw said. “There are experiments being done to determine how much this neutrino weighs, and so by measuring these energy differences we can help those experiments.”
The experience has been educational for his students and offers a chance to gain hands-on knowledge using the same equipment used by research professionals.
“I’ve felt very fortunate, because I know that not everyone gets the opportunity to do this kind of thing,” Bryce said. “It’s inspiring honestly when you can see where it can lead, like at NSCL. You can see what you can end up doing so you see the importance of all of this.”