APS News

Letters to the Editor

Supermagnets–Where Did They Come From?

In his November 2013 APS News letter Philip W. Anderson cites an instance of a senator's incorrect impression regarding the origin of supermagnet technology. Unfortunately, that incorrect impression is widespread.

For example, an article in the "Phenomena, Comment, and Notes" section of the December 1994 issue of Smithsonian states that, "The techniques that made it possible to produce such a magnet [a supermagnet for use in a magnetic resonance medical imaging (MRI) system] were developed at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory." Perhaps the author took at face value a FNAL public relations publication of that era entitled, The Benefits of High-Energy Physics Research, which contains the statement that, "The underlying magnet technology for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) came from particle physics research."

That same claim was echoed by the then-director of FNAL at a meeting I attended at that time in Washington, DC. In fact, the true paternity of practical supermagnets must be attributed to Kunzler, Buehler, Hsu, and Wernick [Phys. Rev. Lett. 6, 89 (1961)], then at Bell Telephone Laboratories [see also The Back Page]. They, and others who pioneered supermagnet science and technology, were not high-energy physicists, nor was supermagnet development a significant activity within high-energy physics projects until after definitive proof-of-principal demonstrations had been achieved. At that point incorporation of supermagnets into MRI systems, particle accelerators, and a multitude of other applications could be undertaken with little risk.

Of course, none of this is intended to denigrate in any way the very remarkable accomplishments of FNAL in successfully applying the then-relatively-mature supermagnet technology to the Tevatron on a scale of unprecedented magnitude.

Ted G. Berlincourt
Elk, California

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Editor: David Voss
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