Upton, NY - America's newest atom smasher glimpsed its golden future Sunday, when a hundred million gold atoms whizzed one-sixth of the way around its 3.8-kilometer ring.
The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, or RHIC, is still under construction, but its operators say it passed this first sextant test on schedule and with flying colors. The achievement puts RHIC on course toward full operation in mid-1999 at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York.
"We may have gotten only one-sixth of the way around the ring, but we're nine-tenths of the way toward a brand-new view of the universe's basic matter," said BNL Director Nicholas Samios.
"This golden achievement on the eve of BNL's golden anniversary is especially thrilling," he added. BNL has operated a succession of accelerators since shortly after its founding in 1947, and physics research there has won four Nobel prizes.
When finished, the $500 million RHIC will be the world's leading collider for nuclear physics, a broad field that seeks the basic physical truths of the universe through the interactions of atomic nuclei.
More than 800 physicists from 81 institutions in 22 states and 14 nations are currently building experiments that only RHIC will be powerful enough to drive. When completed, RHIC will accelerate gold and other heavy and light nuclei, including protons.
In today's test, gold atoms were stripped of their electrons, making them ions, and launched in bunches containing about 100 million ions. They then took a trip through an interconnected series of three of Brookhaven's existing accelerators, gathering speed as they went. By the time the gold bunches reached RHIC's tunnel, they were traveling at nearly the speed of light.
"It took only 3 millionths of a second for the beam to zoom about a kilometer down the line, then smash into a steel block called a beam stop," said RHIC Project Director Satoshi Ozaki. "That moment in time was a testament to the work of hundreds of people at Brookhaven and the many industrial partners who helped build RHIC.
"Building RHIC or any scientific facility of its size can be likened to building a cathedral," Ozaki continued. "It takes skilled craftsmen from many disciplines, working for years toward a common goal. Each wire, each magnet, each block of concrete that makes up RHIC is the product of their toil."
To get through today's test successfully, every one of many intricate RHIC subsystems had to be designed, built, installed, connected and working perfectly in unison.
Over 1,700 superconducting magnets will make up RHIC's two "rings." Each ring is made of six identical sextants that combine a straight section with a smooth connecting arc. A single completed sextant of one of the rings was the conduit for today's first gold beam test.
Each RHIC magnet is a complex assembly between one and ten meters long and half a meter in diameter. At the heart of each magnet is a superconducting coil that, when electrified, creates a magnetic field to guide the gold beam. The magnets were designed at BNL, and fabricated in three different plants: the Laboratory's own magnet facility, Northrop-Grumman Corp.'s Bethpage, NY plant, and Everson Electric Company in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
The electricity to power that magnetic field is channeled through superconducting cables, which lose nearly all resistance to electric current when cooled to extremely low temperatures around 4 Kelvin, or 269° Celsius. RHIC's superconductor is niobium titanium, a silvery wire made by Oxford Superconducting Technology of Carteret, New Jersey.
Now that RHIC has passed its first test, work will continue inside the collider's underground tunnel to install and connect the magnets, and the electrical and computer systems that will support them. Installation of the four large experiments that will capture RHIC's showers of subatomic particles for physicists' research is also progressing.
Brookhaven National Laboratory carries out basic and applied research in the physical, biomedical and environmental sciences and in selected energy technologies. BNL is operated by Associated Universities, Inc., a nonprofit research management organization, under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.
- 30 -