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Superconducting magnets of the future in the making at CERN

Superconducting Nb3Sn cable
A niobium-tin cable (Nb3Sn), showing the single strands, partially unwrapped (Image: Maximilien Brice/CERN)

Over the past thirty years, the exploration of the infinitely small has gone hand-in-hand with advances in superconducting magnets. The increasingly powerful hadron colliders, from the Tevatron, commissioned in 1983, to the LHC in 2008, have led to spectacular discoveries thanks to superconducting magnets used on an unprecedented scale. Accelerator experiments, pioneering the use of superconducting magnets, have also benefited from superconductivity, while stimulating their developments.

The experiments and accelerators have so far used the niobium-titanium composite material, whose performance limits have been reached with the LHC. Increasing the luminosity or energy of the colliders requires higher magnetic fields and, therefore, new superconductors. This is the path that CERN has embarked on with the High-Luminosity LHC, developing magnets based on the niobium-tin compound that generate stronger fields.

The May/June issue of the CERN Courier devotes its cover and a feature article to developments in superconducting magnets. Luca Bottura, Head of CERN's Magnets, Superconductors and Cryostats Group, reports on the progress of superconductor technology, the promises and challenges of niobium-tin for the HL-LHC and the FCC, and, beyond that, the potential of high-temperature superconductors. With several niobium-tin magnets undergoing tests or ready for installation, and major developments in progress, CERN is a pioneering laboratory in this technological adventure.

Read the feature article: Taming the superconductors of tomorrow.