April 19, 2018
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UMaine to purchase magnetometer

ORONO, Maine — A state-of-the-art magnetometer will be purchased by the University of Maine with a $391,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and university funds.

The device, known as a superconducting quantum interference device magnetometer, according to a UMaine press release, will allow high-resolution magnetic and electrical experiments to be performed in several science disciplines. The instrument will be the only one of its kind in the state and one of the few in New England.

The magnetometer, scheduled to be installed next summer, will be housed at UMaine’s Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology, an interdisciplinary center that brings together faculty and student researchers from the departments of physics, chemistry, electrical and computer engineering, and chemical and biological engineering.

The magnetometer will be about 10 feet wide and 10 feet high, according to UMaine. It will allow for sensitive experiments and analysis of materials such as nanoparticles, thin films, powders, wafers and single crystals. In addition, it will allow scientists to measure “magnetic moments” from samples that are 1 million times weaker than the magnetic signal from a piece of iron.

The magnetic moment of a magnet is a quantity that determines the force the magnet can exert on electric currents and the torque that a magnetic field will exert on it, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Robert Meulenberg, assistant professor of physics, envisions the instrument being used by UMaine students, researchers and faculty from a variety of sciences, according to the press release. For at least the first year of its use, the magnetometer, which uses liquid helium as a cooling agent, will be open to and free for use by any UMaine-affiliated researcher.

“If you have samples you think are magnetic, we’ll run them free of charge,” Meulenberg said. “We’re hoping new science can be generated from these initial uses and then future grants can be written with money incorporated to help cover future operational costs.”

In addition to physics and engineering, Meulenberg said the instrument has applications in the areas of chemistry, geology, earth sciences and biology, among others. UMaine would welcome high school groups to see the new instrument starting next fall.

“We’d like to expose students of a younger age to interesting physics,” he said.

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