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Superconducting magnet attracts molecular research

One of the newest - and unequivocally the coolest - pieces of real estate on the Brandeis University campus is a facility containing a state-of-the-art superconducting magnet for use in researching biological macromolecules such as DNA, RNA, enzymes and other proteins.

The installation of the gleaming 800 MHz German-made Bruker magnet was recently completed in a specially built facility on campus. Weighing in at roughly seven and a half tons, the magnetic resonance (MR) spectrometer was funded by a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in a stiff competition among research universities. Since 2001, the NIH has funded only three such magnets nationwide, said professor of chemistry Tom Pochapsky, who spearheaded a group effort to bring the magnet to Brandeis.

"It's a testament to Brandeis' strength in this area that the magnet is located on our campus and under our stewardship," noted Pochapsky.

Brought in by crane and located at a site protected from large metal objects and radio frequency interference, the superconducting behemoth was actually energized with about the same amount of power consumed by a big stereo, Pochapsky explained.

First, the superconducting electric coils that create the magnetic field were bathed in liquid helium to drop the temperature to 2 degrees Kelvin or minus 456 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the coils were supercooled, electric current was able to pass through them without resistance, creating the magnetic field. Once at field, the magnet uses no power at all, although the large liquid helium tank surrounding the coil needs to be refilled every six weeks or so.

Once the magnet has been fully tested, Brandeis researchers, as well as other Boston-area universities engaged in NIH-funded biomedical research, will use it around the clock. Experiments usually run in weeklong blocks, though some may run for several weeks at a time, according to Pochapsky.

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Source:Brandeis University


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