Conductor Phenomena

The maximum pinning force and the maximum current density sustainable by a conductor increases with reduced temperature. Similarly, as the magnetic induction, B, increases, the sustainable current density decreases. Consequently, the current density, magnetic field, and critical temperature are all interdependent. By increasing any of these parameters to a sufficiently high value, superconductivity can be destroyed and the conductor will revert to a normal, non-superconducting state.

One of the most crucial factors in determining the performance of the final magnet is the design of the conductor. This design affects the ultimate field achieved by the magnet, the rate at which the magnet can be energized and the drift rate in the persistent mode of operation. Several phenomena observed in magnets are caused by the conductor itself.

One of the earliest phenomena observed in superconducting magnets wound with single filament conductors was flux jumping. This phenomena arises from current induced in the conductor by the presence of the transverse field generated by the magnet. If a superconductor is placed transverse to the magnetic field, currents are induced in the conductor which shield the bulk of the conductor from the external magnetic field. These circulating currents extend for a finite length along the conductor, flowing in one direction on one side of the conductor and returning on the other side to complete the circuit.

If the heat produced by the penetration of the magnet field into the superconductor cannot escape to the surface rapidly enough, then the temperature increase inside the superconductor triggers a runaway condition known as a flux jump. Consequently, the conductor is driven into the resistive state at fields and currents low in comparison with the critical values. Resistive heat is then dissipated in the small normal zone which increases in temperature causing the normal zone to expand and propagate both along the length of the conductor and transverse to it. This results in the magnet being discharged as the energy in the magnet is dissipated in the resistive portion of the conductor.

To decrease the problem of transition to the normal state, it is common practice to shunt the conductor with a low resistivity normal metal by embedding the superconductor in a copper matrix to form a composite conductor. The copper provides additional heat capacity as well as providing a path for the magnet current while the superconductor is driven normal during a flux jump. If the resistance of the copper is low enough, the temperature of the conductor can remain below the critical temperature at the ambient field, and superconductivity will resume after the currents in the superconductor have decayed.

Embedding the superconductor in a low resistivity metal matrix is effective in reducing the chance of a flux jump which can cause a magnet quench. Magnets constructed with this type of material are dissipative and the heat generated during a flux jump must be conducted to the helium bath. Thus, the magnetic field must be changed slowly to allow time for the heat to be conducted to and dissipated in the liquid helium. Also, the diamagnetic currents in the superconductor contribute to the field generated by the magnet and can reduce its homogeneity.

If, instead of one superconducting filament, many fine filaments of superconductor are used, the heat generated in individual filaments can easily be conducted a short distance to the filament surface thus avoiding flux jumps. Consequently, conductors are made in which many fine filaments of superconductor are coextruded and drawn in a matrix of either copper or aluminum stabilizers. Although this has the desired effect of avoiding flux jumping, circulating currents can again be formed if the conductors are parallel in the highly conductive normal matrix. In this case, the circulating current is between two or more filaments in parallel and the current crosses over through the normally conductive matrix. This gives rise to diamagnetism and unequal distribution of currents in the filaments that limits the rate at which the magnet can be charged.

Problems arising from constructing the superconductor from filaments have been largely circumvented in modern conductors by twisting the filaments in the conductor. This causes the flux from the external magnetic field to be alternated through successive superconducting filaments, thereby reducing the unequal distribution of currents between the superconducting filaments and reducing the diamagnetism of the conductor. This reduction in diamagnetism or hysteresis has two desirable effects. First, it reduces the amount of energy dissipated in the magnet and permits it to be charged more rapidly. Secondly, the reduced diamagnetism causes the current in the magnet and the magnetic field generated by the magnet to be more linearly related. Such conductors are known as intrinsically stabilized conductors.

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