Superconducting Magnet Filling Procedure


Process: The liquid helium and liquid nitrogen reservoirs in superconducting magnets must be periodically refilled to replace losses through evaporation.  Liquid nitrogen can be filled by one person, but liquid helium refilling in general is much easier with two people due to the need to climb a ladder to reach the top of the magnet at the same time as controlling the insertion of the transfer tube into the helium dewar at a much lower level.  Liquid nitrogen is filled weekly, and liquid helium approximately every half a year.

Hazardous Chemicals: Liquid nitrogen, boiling temperature 77 K (-196 °C); liquid helium, boiling temperature 4.2 K (-269 °C).

Protective Equipment: Leather gloves and eye goggles.

Special Handling Procedures: Liquid nitrogen is transferred to magnets from low pressure (22 psi) storage dewars via latex tubing. Transfer rate is monitored by observing the exhaust plume from the magnet outlet(s) and controlled using the dewar outlet valve. The latex tubing is brittle when frozen and so is allowed to warm and soften before disconnection from the magnet. The liquid helium dewar is pressurized by a helium gas cylinder to c. 1psi and transferred to the magnet via a flexible, vacuum insulated, U-shaped, stainless steel pipe. The tube is inserted into the magnet and dewar through metal screw fittings. Two people are required - one on a ladder/raised platform to access the helium entry port on the top of the magnet, and one to control insertion of the transfer line into the dewar.

Spill and Accident Procedures: Small liquid nitrogen spills onto the floor will quickly evaporate. Objects, floor tiles, etc, can be damaged by prolonged exposure to liquid nitrogen at 77K. Liquid helium (4.2K) will boil on contact with the atmosphere. Both cryogens can cause by burns from contact with liquid or cold gas, or from contact with objects cooled by the cryogens. A large accidental release of either cryogenic liquid will very quickly generate a large volume of cold gas which will displace air from the room. The laboratory should be evacuated until the oxygen level is observed to be at a safe level. An error in the magnet filling procedure could result in the accidental release of liquid helium from a magnet, or loss of vacuum from the magnet dewar. Either of these eventualities could result in a magnet ‘quench’ – the liquid helium in the magnet reaches such a low level that the magnet coil becomes resistive (no-longer superconducting), heats up and boils the remaining helium very rapidly. The laboratory must be evacuated immediately.