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Science scores a new synchrotron in the Middle East

ESPRIT DE CHAR A global team probes a promising weapon against climate change

FUN WITH PHASE DIAGRAMS Explore the lighter side of scientific data SPRING 2018

Brought to you by the National MagLab


Open: Sesame Powered by magnets, a new synchrotron in the Middle East aims to spark international collaboration.



Folding Gone Afoul Dylan Murray wants to sabotage processes that can lead to neurodegenerative disease.


Stump the Scientist Nobody can know everything — not even the most brilliant scientists.





A Star (Magnet) Is Born Introducing the world’s strongest superconducting magnet, the first of a new generation.





Esprit de Char Members of a sprawling science team piece together the puzzle of biochar, a promising tool in the fight against global warming.


fields is produced at The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (National MagLab) with the support of scientists around the world. Our goal is to show both doers and lovers of science some of the very cool things researchers discover about our world using high-field magnets. DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS

Kristin Roberts EDITOR


Caroline McNiel WEBMASTER

Nilubon Tabtimtong COPY EDITOR

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Abigail Engleman


Subatomic Smackdown Get ready to rumble as four worthy particles take to the ring in one of the greatest science showdowns of all time.

fields ADVISORY BOARD Kendra Frederick, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Laura Greene, National MagLab Chris Hendrickson, National MagLab Nigel Hussey, Nijmegen High Field Laboratory Huub Weijers, National MagLab



Fun & Games with Data High-field data comes in a boggling array of shapes, squiggles and colors. Play along as we try to figure out what it all means.


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Open: SESAME A magnet-powered synchrotron at the first major international research center in the Middle East aims to draw scientists into cross-cultural collaborations. BY SOPHIA CHEN


aedeh Darzi studies brittle, stained fragments of animal skin — centuriesold pieces of the Quran, Torah and poetry books, for example — by beaming infrared light at them. This method allows researchers to figure out the chemical composition of archaeological artifacts without having to cut them up. “We can find out how they made parchment or how they made ink,” said Darzi, a chemist at the Institute for Research in Fundamental Sciences in Tehran, Iran. Her experiments, she hopes, will unlock secrets from a vibrant past while helping museums preserve the materials for posterity. The catch: She needs an expensive machine known as a synchrotron to produce the infrared light. In the past, Darzi used a synchrotron in Italy. But since last year, with the opening of a $110 million facility called SESAME in Allan, Jordan, she has the opportunity to run some of her experiments without having to ship fragile samples across continents. The centerpiece of SESAME (the acronym stands for Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science



and Applications in the Middle East) is its ringshaped synchrotron. Dozens of low-field magnets along the ring’s 133-meter circumference help the synchrotron produce light by accelerating electrons. When those magnets bend and push the electrons close to the speed of light, the particles emit electromagnetic radiation, or light. At SESAME, those intense beams are deflected into one of several tunnels known as a beamline, which is where Darzi would place a parchment sample for study. By observing where the parchment reflects and absorbs the light, Darzi can identify distinct chemicals in the material. For example, she plans to use synchrotron light to study the extent to which collagen from the animal skins has broken down. SESAME is starting off with two beamlines, one infrared, another X-ray, and plans to add two more in the next year. Scientists from many disciplines have big plans for this light: Tel Aviv University biophysicist Roy Beck intends to study the structure of neurons using the X-ray beam, for example. Archaeometrist Jan Gunneweg of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wants to study 2,000-year-old incense from the region.

Eventually, SESAME’s light could be used to study crystal structure in new materials.

of SESAME’s governing body, has pushed for SESAME’s construction since its inception.

The loftiest goal of the facility is to foster peace in the region. SESAME’s eight member states, all in the Middle East, contribute to its costs: Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey.

“I thought it was important to be able to interact with our neighbors — maybe not necessarily agree, but try to understand each other,” said Rabinovici. “I thought that science is a way in which we can do that.”

Individual scientists of different nationalities can help bridge the gap between their governments by collaborating on science projects like SESAME, said Laura Greene, past-president of the American Physical Society and chief scientist at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. Greene traveled to Jordan for the inauguration of SESAME, the region’s first major international research center. Scientific and political leaders gave uplifting speeches, she said, about how to work together on science research. During a tour, scientists chatted among themselves about how to begin collaborating. “It was just an inspiring place to be,” she said.

The first trip Darzi ever took outside of Iran was to SESAME in 2012. To make the 1,800-kilometer voyage, she needed the sponsorship of SESAME to get a Jordanian visa. There, she met scientists from other countries for the first time. “Sometimes we pre-judge people because of their nationality, when we have never met each other,” said Darzi. “SESAME provides me an environment to get to know people of different nationalities.” “The important thing,” she added, “is that we can talk together through science.”

The inauguration was the culmination of two decades of work. Physicist Eliezer Rabinovici, an Israeli delegate and former vice president Above: Research scientist Maedeh Darzi studied this Islamic prayer book, dating from the 18th century, using infrared light generated by a synchrotron. Photo courtesy of Faranak Bahrololoumi

At left: The SESAME laboratory in Allan, Jordan (far left), about 35 km outside the capital of Amman; the synchrotron’s main ring (middle and right) during installation. Photos courtesy of SESAME


FOLDING GONE AFOUL D ylan Murray, a biophysicist with the U.S. National Institutes of Health, recently had two minutes to explain the high-field research he conducts at the National MagLab. We recorded two takes of those interviews: one for scientists (with Sam Grant, MRI user program director at the National MagLab) and one for the masses (with Luc Cherisol, an accounting representative at the lab). Start off by reading the Cherisol interview below; then visit to view the more technical version.


LC: What exactly do you do at the MagLab? DM: I study neurodegenerative disease — such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. A prominent example of someone with ALS is Stephen Hawking, who you may be familiar with. What exactly does the MagLab do to help your research? I study how protein molecules — which basically perform everything that your body does naturally — go wrong in disease. In ALS they stick together in a particularly abnormal way. And I use the NMR instruments at the MagLab to understand the three-dimensional shapes they make when they stick together.

So in these three-dimensional shapes, are you looking for a certain pattern or certain angles that help you know whether this string or molecule is doing what it’s supposed to do? You can think of a protein molecule as a long string or a chemical polymer that folds up into a three-dimensional shape. In neurodegenerative disease, it folds up into the wrong three-dimensional shape. What I’m doing is measuring distances between different spots in this protein molecule to be able to calculate a three-dimensional structure and compare that to the normal state of the protein. Image credit: Stephen Bilenky



When motor neuron proteins get bent out of shape, neurodegenerative disease follows. Dylan Murray discusses how his research aims to disrupt that process. So, in this structure, are there voids, or is it perfectly patterned so you know exactly what you’re looking for?

It’s difficult to say, because we didn’t really know what the structure is until just recently. And we also don’t know what the functional or the normal state of the protein molecule is — that’s also a question. But in diseases like ALS, the protein gets folded in a particular shape that gets repeated many, many times, so you have an even longer, thread-like object. And we know what that looks like. By understanding that, we can maybe figure out new treatments for the disease.

How close are you guys to a treatment? I do very basic science. So my results are actually useful to medicinal chemists or clinical scientists who would then design treatments that you can use in animals and maybe eventually in humans. So we’re still a long way off from a cure for the disease, but we understand a little bit more about it.




Spectrum Analysis

STUMP THE SCIENTIST Nobody can know everything — not even the most brilliant of scientists. The more knowledge that humans accumulate in this Information Age, the less possible it is that anyone could ever fit all those facts inside the 1.5-kilogram blob that is our brain. We asked scientists involved in high magnetic field research to fess up: Tell us something related to science that you simply don’t comprehend, and wish you did. Turns out, there are vast swaths of science that never make it into their neural networks. Not because they’re dim, and not because they think it’s boring. Rather, as science demands ever-greater specialization from its practitioners, there is less and less bandwidth for keeping up with trends outside one’s discipline.

So, what stumps scientists? Read on to find out.

Jenna Luek Ph.D. Candidate, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

In the last few months of my Ph.D. in chemistry, I had to perform toxicity testing that required microscope work. I quickly realized how clueless I was around microscopes, and was embarrassed when I found myself having to ask for some help from the high school volunteer. Sharing this experience with my lab group, I learned that I was not the only chemist in our group who wanted to avoid microscopes at all costs!

I know almost nothing about organic chemistry. I know benzene rings and then that’s it. That’s as far as my organic chemistry goes. Daniel Rhodes Postdoctoral Researcher, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Columbia University

Shermane Benjamin Jonathan Billings Scientific Research Specialist, National MagLab

When I decided to go into science, I decided to go into physics. And I jokingly told my friends that I chose the easy science to go into, because physics is pretty close to math. It’s clean and orderly. It’s got answers. My sister is going into nursing, and I want to stay far way from complex systems like the human body. I don’t even know how to approach the human body. It is so amazingly complex that, coming at it from a physics point of view, it is so uncomfortable for me to even try and conceive of something as messy as a human body. 8


Postdoctoral Associate, Physics, National MagLab

Dark energy. I would say 70 percent of what I know about it is stuff I’ve watched on TV, like Discovery Channel, the Science Channel. I’m embarrassed that I don’t know it that much. It seems like it’s a popular topic that everyone knows about or wants to ask me about because I’m a scientist. I kind of regurgitate what I’ve been told.

Abhinandan Antony One of the things that has always confused me a little bit is airplane engines, and I should know about them because I’m Staff Research Associate, Columbia University a mechanical engineer. And maybe transmissions and gear boxes in cars. I know how gear ratios work. I just don’t know how the gear lever moves the gears and how it shifts from one place to another. I don’t understand how they place them — in a stick shift, how it goes from first to second to so on. I know the math behind it. I just don’t understand the actual geometry of it.

Nat Fortune

Emilio Codecido

Professor of Physics, Smith College

Graduate Student, Department of Physics, Ohio State University

Why it is so hard for individual particles to work together and why they eventually decide to do so.

I don’t understand the transition from basic science to the mass production of something. I feel like we take it for granted. We don’t really think of where [a product] comes from or all the work that it takes. We understand the basic physics, and we just kind of stop there most of the time. Then we see the final product and think it’s kind of trivial. But it’s not.

Sara Haravifard William M. Fairbank Assistant Professor of Physics and Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, Duke University

I’m horrible with math. I make mistakes. There you go — it’s very embarrassing. I always ask my students to double check.

How do the actual energy transfers happen in a cell? Some of it is known, with the ATP-ADP cycle, but all the details are pretty hefty stuff. Theo Siegrist

Nur Gueneli Researcher, Research School of Earth Sciences, College of Physical & Mathematical Sciences, Australian National University

First thing that comes into my mind: how airplanes fly. Aerodynamics, yes. But really: How do we stay in the air? A big mystery to me. Then, black holes. Yes, very dense matter that even consumes light. But, wait, what? Again, physics at its best, and I should study it a bit more to understand.

Tell us what stumps you on social media #SpectrumAnalysis @NationalMagLab

Professor, Chemical & Biomedical Engineering, FAMUFSU College of Engineering


It’s A

magnet i n t ro

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32 tesla

No sugar, spice or puppy-dog tails in this baby. Made of a combo of low-temperature (niobium-tin and niobium-titanium) and high-temperature (yttrium barium copper oxide) superconductors, this bundle of joy is now the strongest superconducting magnet in the world by far.


Dec. 8, 2017

2.3 tons

liquid helium FAVORITE




2009 LENGTH:




world o l hel

0.6 meters proud

parents National MagLab Oxford Instruments SuperPower Inc.


Esprit de Char Each member of a sprawling science team contributes a piece to the puzzle of biochar. By Kristen Coyne


few years ago, a group of scientists set about solving one of nature’s many mysteries. The subject was biochar, a kind of carbonpacked charcoal made from burned organic matter that possesses, among other benefits, the ability to be used as a nontoxic, slow-release fertilizer. Scientists knew that composting biochar improved its fertilizing properties. But how? The question is important not only for agriculture but for the environment as well. Biochar is a promising tool for carbon sequestration, safely storing excess carbon that would otherwise heat up the planet.

Field experiments, above, were essential to fully understanding the properties of biochar, right. Photos by Nikolas Hagemann, University of Tuebingen

With these issues in mind, Andreas Kappler and Nikolas Hagemann of the Center for Applied Geoscience at the University of Tuebingen in Germany assembled a team and began a series of experiments to examine biochar. In particular, they wanted to know about the thin layer of carbon that formed on biochar when composted, a process that boosted its immediate fertilizing capacity. The group tried one technique after another, from fast field cycling nuclear magnetic resonance relaxometry to analytical scanning transmission electron microscopy to X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy. With each new technique came new members to the team, using instruments such as the National MagLab’s ion cyclotron resonance (ICR) magnets in Tallahassee, Fla.; the synchrotron at the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon; and a picturesque Swiss field where the biochar was composted by the Ithaka Institute for Carbon Strategies. “It just grew and grew and grew and grew and grew and grew,” explained chemist Thomas Borch of Colorado State University, who was on the research team. “Because we couldn’t figure it out.” While some of the instruments and techniques did not produce the data scientists were looking for, they were valuable for leading them to the next step, Borch said. “We tried everything — everything you can imagine,” Borch said. “Some of the most advanced kinds of microscopy, to look at it from that perspective, to spectroscopy, to

spectrometry. And most of the instruments told us very little.” They kept trying new approaches. It was Borch who proposed the idea of using the MagLab’s ICR magnets in conjunction with a rarely used, still experimental technique called desorption atmospheric pressure photoionization. “It was crucial in revealing the composition and the mechanism that most likely led to the composted biochar’s increase in crop yields and properties,” Borch said. The tools allowed the scientists to identify the exact chemical composition of not only the bulk of the biochar, but also the 100-nanometer thin carbon coating that developed on it after composting. That coating, the researchers discovered, contains lots of nitrogen that is released as a fertilizer when added to soil, stimulating crop yield, and that discovery solved the biochar mystery. The scientists’ work, published in 2017 in the online journal Nature Communications, shed light on the benefits of composted biochar, knowledge that could help in the development and marketing of biochar as both fertilizer and a means of carbon sequestration.

Team Effort

The study was, itself, a study in collaboration. No fewer than 20 authors from 16 institutions and eight countries contributed to the article — and that’s not counting the


Solving a Science Puzzle

To hit pay dirt on soil fertilizer, it helps to have lots of talented diggers on your team. This overview of Team Biochar gives details on who did what, and where. 1 Sebastian Behrens,

Associate Professor

University of Minnesota and BioTechnology Institute Designed study

2 Thomas Borch, Professor Colorado State University Improved manuscript

3 K. Wade Elliott, Grad Student University of New Hampshire NMR spectroscopy analysis

4 Amy McKenna, Research Scientist National High Magnetic Field Laboratory FT-ICR-MS analysis

5 Krisztina Varga, Assistant Professor University of New Hampshire NMR spectroscopy analysis

6 Robert B. Young, Research Scientist Colorado State University FT-ICR-MS analysis

7 Alba Dieguez-Alonso, Research Group Leader

Technische Universität Berlin Gas adsorption analysis



8 Nikolas Hagemann, Postdoc University of Tuebingen

Designed study, performed composting experiment, performed extraction experiments and coordinated all other analysis, SEM analysis, STEM analysis, wrote manuscript

Johannes Harter, Grad Student

9 University of Tuebingen Soil-aging experiment

Claudia I. Kammann, Professor

10 Hochschule Geisenheim University Improved manuscript

numerous people and institutions credited in the article’s acknowledgments or the dozen international funding agencies. Each individual brought something unique to the research team, whether it was expertise in one of the 15 measurement techniques used, ideas and insights or countless tedious hours in a lab. “It is important to have so many contributors to cope with complexity,” said Hagemann, first author on the paper. “Our project, specifically, has two dimensions of complexity: the interdisciplinary nature of our questions and the problem of scale.” “As a geo-ecologist, I look at soil as the interaction of the earth, water, biology and atmosphere,” Hagemann continued. “Also in compost, there is interaction of minerals, water, dead and living organisms and gasses — and all this impacts the biochar that we mixed into the compost. To understand this mess, you need people with different backgrounds, including microbiology, physics, chemistry, biogeochemistry, soil science, plant nutrition — and much more. And someone with hands-on experience in composting and who knows how to use a digger.” Although 20 authors may be a bit above average for a scientific journal, this number is far from unique, and emblematic of an established trend in science publishing. Long gone are the days of scientists single-handedly conceiving of, designing and conducting experiments, then processing and writing up the results. Research areas have become far too specialized for such solo gigs. And getting access to top-of-the-line instrumentation and expertise at national labs, particle accelerators and other facilities worldwide necessarily means bringing more brains onto the team. According to a study published in the Journal of the Association for Information Science & Technology, teams behind science papers have been growing for decades. Today, collaboration among multiple institutions is the norm. And that collaboration yields benefits: The study found that a paper’s impact increases with the number of authors, institutions and countries associated with it. In other words, it takes a scrum of scientists to tackle the big problems faced by society today.

Want to dig deeper into the dirty story of biochar? Go to for links. Illustration credit: Rebecca Taylor

11 Andreas Kappler, Professor University of Tuebingen Performed composting experiment, wrote the manuscript

12 Martin Obst, Professor University of Bayreuth STXM analysis

13 Silvia Orsetti, Grad Student University of Tuebingen EEC analysis

14 Edisson Subdiaga, Grad Student University of Tuebingen

15 Hans-Peter Schmidt,

Head of Research

Ithaka Institute for Carbon Strategies

Designed study, performed composting experiment, improved manuscript

16 Mihaela Albu, Senior Scientist Centre for Electron Microscopy and Nanoanalysis STEM analysis

17 Claudia Mayrhofer, Technician Centre for Electron Microscopy and Nanoanalysis STEM analysis

18 Pellegrino Conte, Professor Università degli Studi di Palermo NMR relaxometry analysis

19 Stephen Joseph, Researcher University of New South Wales and Nanjing Agricultural University Designed study, LC-OCD analysis, SEM analysis, STEM analysis

20 Sarasadat Taherymoosavi,


University of Newcastle

Gas adsorption analysis

EEC analysis


Image credit: Stephen Bilenky



When it comes to talent, versatility and the power to change the world, which atomic particle is the champ? Read what our four contenders have to say — then you decide. Physics fans, are you ready to rumble? Of course you are — and you’ve come to the right place. In the pages that follow, you will have a ringside seat to perhaps the most anticipated skirmish in science history, as four atomic adversaries duke it out for the coveted title of Most Awesome Subatomic Particle Since the Dawn of Time. More rousing than the Rumble in the Jungle, more chilling than the Thrilla in Manila, we present to you, ladies and gentlemen, the (drumroll, please) Subatomic Smackdown. There will be no messy blood, sweat or other bodily fluids involved in this brainy battle. This is a war of words, ideas and wit based in science, from which one, and only one, of these four deserving combatants will emerge as victor. Introducing: • In the blue corner, championed by CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) near Geneva, Switzerland, and weighing in at 938.27231 megaelectronvolts (MeV), is the proton.

• In the red corner, supported by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, USA, and weighing in at — well, nothing, really — is the photon. • In the purple corner, championed by the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida, USA, and weighing in at 0.51099906 MeV, is the electron. • Finally, in the green corner, rooted on by the Institute for Quantum Matter at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and weighing in at 939.56563 MeV, is the neutron. This epic physics feud will take place over four rounds, as each challenger (with a little help from their supporters) will argue why it, and it alone, deserves to hold the title of Most Awesome Subatomic Particle. So … electronvolt for electronvolt, which particle packs the most impressive punch? Read on, award points as you go, then weigh in on who you believe emerges as champion of this quantum quarrel.


fighter stats Weight: 938.27231 MeV


Symbol: p+ Year discovered: 1911 Charge: positive

Pay heed to this smashing subatomic celebrity, used in medicine and to produce neutrinos, antiprotons and, of course, the God particle. Step aside, lightweights. The proton has arrived. And I’m positive that I’m the very best. You may have heard of me. Ever seen a model of an atom? Right there in the middle of everything: protons. Yes, there are also neutrons in the nucleus. But they’re lucky just to be there, aren’t they? Look up any element’s atomic number and you’ll see which particles really count for something. Protons are the best, and scientists know it. After all, my name comes from the Greek word for “first.” Electrons? They’re fighting just to be in our orbit. What else? Those hadrons in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN? Protons, of course. I don’t like to brag, but do you know about the Higgs boson? The “God particle”? The last undiscovered piece in the Standard Model of particle physics, the one scientists spent five decades trying to find? Do you know who finally discovered that particle? Protons did. When LHC scientists crashed us together, we made so many of those bosons that scientists couldn’t help but see them. There’s a reason they built a 17-mile accelerator — spanning two countries! — just for us. The takeaway here? Protons make an impact.



Kathryn Jepsen Symmetry magazine

So maybe I don’t zip around the LHC at exactly the speed of light. I am a particle of substance. I have mass. Unlike you photons and electrons, I’m not just some simple, point-like particle. I have an inner self, full of quarks and gluons. The force that holds them all together? The strong nuclear force — which, by the way, is almost 140 times as strong as the electromagnetic force (sorry not sorry, electrons). Unlike some of you, I can stand up for myself. Push me and I’ll push back, converting energy into brand new gluons and virtual particles. I’m not some clumsy electron, speeding around just as fast as you please. What I am is creative — not to mention multitalented. Higgs bosons aren’t the only particles I can make. Need some neutrons? Some neutrinos? How about anti-protons or rare isotopes? Protons can make any of those: Just point us toward the right target. Point us at a tumor and we can even be used to fight cancer. You might think I’d get tired of being so amazing. You might think that, like some neutron, I’d eventually wear out, give up and come apart. But I am rock solid. As far as scientists know, I will never decay. And if I do, I’ll still probably last longer than every planet, star and galaxy around. In sum, protons are collections of quarks and gluons, held together by the strong force, possibly for eternity. You can find them in everything built of atoms, and they’re key players in both medicine and basic research. In sum, protons are the best. Written with the assistance of Kathryn Jepsen

Clara Nellist University of Göttingen

fighter stats Weight: massless Symbol: ϒ Year discovered: 1923 Charge: none

PHoton Lighter than a butterfly, faster than a bee (by far) — no other particle can compete with me! I go 186,000 miles a second,1 faster than you can go, I reckon. I’m massless,2 in fact: your weight holds you back. Got my attosecond attitude, while gravity’s got you subdued. I’m everywhere, nowhere;4 there’s no place you can go where I can’t be — I’m the original of particle-wave duality.5 I am all colors, shedding light. You can’t hide from me. 3

From big to ultrasmall, don’t you know I reveal it all? I’ll show you what the deal is: photosynthesis6 and double helix. With X-rays you can see inside, deflect off atoms while I glide. I’m coherent;7 I’m transparent; admit it, I’m the heir apparent.

Fast-moving fire atom,8 transmitting your datum,9 telecommunication, wifi, bouncing through the night sky, 13 billion miles10 from Voyager’s eye, I fly. See me in the sci-fi — I destroyed Alderaan11 then in the real world I grew the grass on your12 lawn. I come from the sun at half a hellawatt;13 forget about it, your words mean naught. Your matter is trash, time to scatter fast. Which particle is best? No contest.

Karl Gumerlock SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

2. Theory and experiments agree that photons have energy and momentum, but no mass. 3. The fastest controlled laser pulses occur in just attoseconds, or billionths of a billionth of a second. 4. Cosmic microwave background radiation, a form of light from the Big Bang, permeates our universe. 5. Light seems to behave like a wave sometimes and a particle other times. 6. X-ray imaging experiments have provided important clues to how life works, from DNA to photosynthesis. 7. Light is coherent when its waves travel in fixed relationships. This is a property of lasers. 8. In ancient Hindu physics, light rays were made of fire atoms called tejas. 9. Examples of telecommunication that rely on photons: radiofrequency wireless signals, microwaves and fiber optics. 10. NASA uses light to communicate with space missions billion of miles away through huge radio antennas on Earth and in space. 11. In Star Wars, a laser from the Death Star destroys the peaceful planet. 12. Photons drive photosynthesis and the atmospheric warming that influences Earth’s weather and climate.

Written with the assistance of Karl Gumerlock, Amanda Solliday and Alan Fry


1. The speed of light is 299,792,458 meters (about 186,000 miles) per second. Nothing moves faster.

Amanda Solliday SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

13. The solar energy output is about 0.4 x 1027 watts, an order of magnitude referred to unofficially as “hella.”

Alan Fry SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory


electron It might look like wizardry, but racking up a shelf of Nobel Prizes is all skill, ingenuity and inherent greatness. It goes without saying that the electron is the greatest subatomic particle, but I’ll take the time to explain why to those confused individuals who would suggest otherwise. Although our greatness is 100 percent established by science, we do see how some might become so awestruck as to suspect that hocus-pocus is somehow involved. First out of our bag of tricks: If you are reading this on a computer or cell phone screen, you are welcome. If you want to forward this to a friend or loved one — and I hope you do — feel free to use email. And what do you think the “e” stands for, anyway? Without me, you’d be swiping on a touchscreen or banging on a keyboard to do what? Generate neutrons, protons or photons? I don’t think so. Oh sure, the internet uses photons to transmit information, but it gets the information from electrons and it converts the information back to electrons before it arrives at its destination. And if you are sitting down, you are also welcome. Because without the electronic bond, you’d fall right through your chair to the floor … and then through the floor … and so on. All the way down — now there’s a disappearing act! In fact, I’m so important to everyday life that I was the first elementary particle to be discovered



Greg Boebinger National MagLab

Laura Greene National MagLab

by scientists, a feat performed by J.J. Thomson in 1897 for which he received the Nobel Prize. In 1911, we electrons paired up at low temperatures to perform our superconductivity dance for Heike Kamerlingh Onnes. We zipped so fast through that mercury: Now you see us, now you don’t! Another Nobel Prize. It took scientists 46 years to explain that dance, thanks to our deep understanding and clever use of quantum mechanics. Then in 1986, in a very thin layer of copper and oxygen atoms, we performed our superconductivity dance at temperatures far exceeding anything previously known. We bagged more Nobel Prizes for that discovery (Hmmmm … that name seems to keep popping up like a rabbit out of a hat!). And even though engineers are already using high-temperature superconductivity in new magnets and other technologies, physicists still haven’t discovered how we do it! That’s the thing. We electrons are genius magicians, always coming up with new tricks to amaze. But we’re also genius entrepreneurs … always providing new technologies to benefit humanity. Your other subatomic particles neither amaze nor innovate, playing the vaudeville circuit while our name is in lights on Broadway. These days, my greatest tricks occur when I get together with quadrillions of my fellow electrons and — presto chango! — invent new collective behaviors, or electronic correlations, as scientists call them. Think of birds flocking, fish swimming

Komu Thirunavukkuarasu Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

electron Timeline Around 600 B.C. fighter stats

Catching static electricity in action

Weight: 0.51099906 MeV Symbol: e-, βYear discovered: 1897 Charge: negative


in schools or other beautiful and powerful group behaviors that you’d never see or appreciate if you only studied animals as individuals. Those abilities, combined with the fact that we electrons are completely indistinguishable from each other, means that we do amazing things that still baffle scientists. In one recent acclaimed performance, we were traveling in a material so thin we were constrained to two dimensions. Then, when scientists put us in a high magnetic field, we electrons danced around in circles and got together with the magnetic flux quanta to create new particles that — abracadabra — had only one-third of the electric charge of an electron! To put that in terms you in the classical world might understand, that’s like using a giant pile of bricks to build a wee house the size of a third of a brick. This fractional quantum Hall effect is one of our favorite tricks. It netted us electrons more Nobel prizes and rewrote the physics textbooks to focus on topology, which should sound familiar because it landed a Nobel in 2016 — are you sensing a trend here? Alone as individuals, together in superconducting pairs or working in countless correlated confabulations, we electrons are the best magicians and the brightest inventors of all the subatomic particles. And that is no illusion. Electron out. Mic drop. Written with the assistance of Greg Boebinger

Thales, an ancient Greek “thinker,” notices that amber attracts small objects when rubbed with fur.

It’s “electric” (boogie woogie woogie!) An English scientist coins the term “electricus” to describe the property Thales observed centuries before. From the Greek word for amber, the word later engenders the terms “electricity” and “electron.”


Sly as a kite

Brainy Ben Franklin takes one for the team by tying a key to a kite during a thunderstorm. He convinces the world that static electricity and lightning are, in fact, the same thing.


Taking charge Alessandro Volta learns to store steady, reliable electrical currents in the first batteries.


Match made in science Some astute scientists question whether something’s going on between electricity and magnetism. After observing them together on numerous occasions, they confirm their suspicions with a series of discoveries; electromagnetism becomes the “it couple” of the century.


Faraday furthers the field Michael Faraday uses electricity to split compounds into individual elements, a process termed “electrolysis.” He is also to thank for the principles of electromagnetic induction, generation and transmission.


Maxwell makes waves James Clerk Maxwell proposes that electromagnetism exists as waves travelling the speed of light, backing this revolutionary thought with his equations.


electron Timeline continued 1878

The world gets lit Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison invent and develop the light bulb, changing forever the way we see the world.


Name recognition George Johnstone Stoney proposes a fundamental unit of electricity called the “electron.”


Science goes subatomic J.J. Thompson’s experiments conclude the existence of the tiny, negatively charged particles named by Stoney.


Fast and frosty Heike Kamerlingh Onnes discovers that, at extremely low temperatures, electrical resistance in mercury drops to zip, a phenomenon that came to be called superconductivity.


Coming into focus Ernst Ruska builds the first electron microscope. Using beams of electrons to create images, it provides greater resolution and magnification than light microscopes.


Peering beyond the skin Godfrey Hounsfield and Allan Cormack invent a new use for X-rays (which, like light, are produced by the movement of electrons in atoms). Their system uses X-rays in CT scans to look inside the body’s tissues.


Electrons connect us, part 1 Tim Berners Lee invents the World Wide Web, which combined electronic networks around the world to create what we now know as the internet.


Neutron We’re neutral, not unbiased: Revealing science secrets as we scatter, neutrons are worth our weight in the gold we create. There really can be no disputing the superior, indeed noble stature of the neutron. I make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of science (more on that in a bit) and am the undisputed heavyweight of the subatomic world. Massless, a photon clearly lacks gravitas, while the electron, I am sorry to say, is a complete lightweight. And despite the proton’s boasts of heft, I have outweighed it for 13.8 billion years. You should thank your lucky neutron stars, dear reader, for our excess mass. If neutrons were lighter than protons, then we would be the stable particles, and protons could decay into us! Hydrogen would be unstable and unable to fuel the stars, which created the carbon within you. So if we didn’t outweigh protons, you would not even be here! I overcame a rough start. Because neutrons can only survive about 15 minutes alone (after that, regrettably, we turn into an electron, a proton and a neutrino through radioactive beta decay), just one in seven of us survived the Big Bang, by sticking to protons and forming helium-4. Indeed, without neutrons, everything would be hydrogen, the only atom that can live without us. We neutrons coexist even at the astronomical scale. Neutron stars are made up almost exclusively of us. Why should you care? Look no

Electrons connect us, part 2 There are 5.1 billion cell phone subscribers worldwide. We have electrons to thank for that.

By Abigail Engleman

20 fields


Collin Broholm Johns Hopkins University

Valeria Lauter Oak Ridge National Laboratory

fighter stats Weight: 939.56563 MeV Symbol: n0 Year discovered: 1932 Charge: none farther than your golden ring: We made it, and all heavy elements, in violent neutron star collisions.

crazy emergent particles that electrons are always waxing poetic about.

Free of electric charge, we eluded scientists longer than photons, electrons and protons. The neutrons produced by bombarding beryllium with helium-4 were initially mistaken for photons. So sad! Refined experiments by James Chadwick in 1932, however, led him to recognize that he had discovered either the neutron or the violation of energy and momentum conservation. Needless to say, it was I!

So, there you have it: We are the secret nuclear ingredient to overcoming repulsive protons; we alone form heavenly bodies that create gold mines; and when we are liberated through fission or spallation, we offer scientists an unsurpassed view of mischievous electrons and of atoms large and small. But the view comes at a price: As we are detected, we suffer the indignity of turning into lowly protons and electrons! Consider the nobility of this final act as you lock in your vote for me, objectively the best subatomic particle (n0 contest).

Since then, our brilliance has grown by leaps and bounds. Thanks to fancy inventions like high flux fission reactors and the spallation neutron source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, scientists can free us from our nuclear dwellings to form neutron beams, which help them see atoms dance and electrons spin. True: X-rays are handy for figuring out the atomic structure of materials. But neutrons find things that escape even them, including tiny hydrogen atoms, even those hiding among heavy atoms! Our penetrating power gives scientists “neutron vision” to see water in an operating fuel cell, oil in an operating engine, and problems in your smartphone battery that does not hold its charge. When a beam of us hits our target, we scatter like bouncy balls to reveal in amazing detail the good vibrations (phonons) inside. And because we spin, we feel magnetism. So when a scientist puts a material inside a powerful magnetic field and aims a beam of us at it, we divulge its magnetic secrets. We can even create and annihilate those

Written with the assistance of Collin Broholm

So ... who wins the Subatomic Smackdown? We’re moving the final round out of the ring and into the social sphere. Which particles will go down for the count and which one will take the prize? You decide. On March 30, follow the blow-by-blow on Twitter at #SubatomicSmackdown and join a corner to support your favorite particle. But remember: We want a good clean fight, so let’s keep those tweets above the belt, everyone. Tally your points and submit your scorecard on Smackdown Day via our Twitter poll (@NationalMagLab). The champion will be selected by majority decision.

William Ratcliff National Institute of Standards & Technology


left field


From peaks to domes, from scans and spectra, from distribution plots to phase diagrams: High-field data truly comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and levels of impenetrability.


Channel your inner child by completing the classic “fun pad” games we’ve created here, inspired by great research done in high magnetic fields around the world!



Use straight lines to connect the dots and reveal the crystal structure of this molecule



21 1






1 1










1 2

A Fermi surface of a new topological semimetal (PtBi2) discovered by scientists at the High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Hefei, China. The pink and yellow colors identify the electron and hole bands.


9 12









19 18

6 7

14 13

Crystal structure of heavy fermion URu2Si2 Researchers performed ultrasonic measurements on this crystal in pulsed magnetic fields at Dresden High Magnetic Field Laboratory to better understand the sample’s unique “hidden order.”






Color can carry important information in scientific figures. Follow the guide to reveal the unique structure of the Fermi surface below.

1 = PINK

4 3


A Fermi surface is a kind of map of how electrons move in a material.


Match this magnet-based data with the description of the science it represents.

National MagLab, Florida State University

Positive-ion electrospray spectra NMR measurements in pulsed magnetic fields that show how spins order in LuCuVO4

National MagLab, University of Pittsburgh

National MagLab, Purdue University

HoW10 tunnelling gap Phase diagram for PbCrO3 demonstrating an electron-interactioncontrolled Mott transition Quantum Hall effect modulated by top and bottom gates

High Magnetic Field Laboratory, Chinese Academy of Sciences

National MagLab, Zhejiang University

3D MRIs of oxygen-17 in a rat brain Immunofluorescence images of CNE-2Z cells show that 27 T SMF changes spindle orientation

Laboratoire National des Champs MagnĂŠtiques Intenses

The surface of a DNA-unwinding protein National MagLab, Sichuan University

Quantum oscillations observed in a 2D electron gas system at the interface of PbTe/CdTe heterostructures

National MagLab, Florida State University

National MagLab, Florida State University

Puzzled? Find the answer key online at


Non-profit Organization U.S. Postage PAI D Tallahassee, FL Permit No. 55

National MagLab Florida State University 600 W. College Ave. Tallahassee, FL 32306

When motor neuron proteins get bent out of shape, neurodegenerative disease follows. Find out how biophysicist Dylan Murray uses high-field research to understand that process on page 6.

Headquartered in Tallahassee, Florida, The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory is home to some of the world’s strongest and most unique magnets, and belongs to a network of high-field magnet labs around the world offering scientists cutting-edge instruments for their discoveries.

@NationalMagLab The National MagLab is supported by the National Science Foundation (DMR – 1157490) and the state of Florida.

Fields Spring 2018  

Read about new nano technology research, how high-field experiments improve our lives, and how scientists channel their inner artists on whi...

Fields Spring 2018  

Read about new nano technology research, how high-field experiments improve our lives, and how scientists channel their inner artists on whi...