Big Complicated Machines, Geeky Physics

Big, Complicated Machines #14 – The Calutron


184” (184 inch) Cyclotron taken in 1942. Image: LBNL

Good morning everyone.

Today we’re going to talk about on odd offshoot of the cyclotron, actually it’s an odd offshoot of a cyclotron, it’s called a Calutron and it’s a device used to enrich uranium.

The calutron (I hate that name, just despise it) is another invention of E.O. Lawrence. Remember Ernest Eddy? I briefly talked about his invention of the cyclotron back in BCS #13, among other things. Anyway, Lawrence never intended to build any such device, he wanted to build bigger and better cyclotrons and had been doing just that throughout the 1930s. He and his associates built a string of them starting with the original 9 inch cobbled-together device, to a 27 inch 4.8 MeV device (a big improvement), a 37 inch 8 MeV device, and a 60 inch 16 MeV device. The experimenters that used the things just loved them and were discovering all sorts of new things, first of which is that the machines got inordinately larger (and more expensive, of course) as the power output increased. The sizes indicate the diameter of the acceleration chamber, not the size of the cyclotron itself. For example, the 60 inch device required the use of a 220 ton iron electromagnet, a picture of the device is after the jump.

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