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IEEE honours Amalia Ballarino with James Wong Award at the International Conference on Magnet Technology

Amalia Ballarino, Deputy Leader of the Magnets, Superconductors and Cryostats group in the Technology department, has piloted the development of superconductors and innovative superconducting systems


Amalia Ballarino
Amalia Ballarino (Image: CERN)

The 27th International Conference on Magnet Technology, which took place in Fukuoka, Japan, from 15 to 19 November, gave the superconductivity community at CERN reason to celebrate. Amalia Ballarino, who has for decades led CERN’s efforts to develop superconductors and novel devices based on their use for the Organization’s accelerators, was awarded the James Wong Award for Continuing and Significant Contributions to Applied Superconductor Materials Technology from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The announcement of the prize came in July this year and the ceremony took place on 18 November.

The IEEE stressed Ballarino’s role in the successful R&D programmes that led to establishing a winning role for magnesium diboride (MgB2) and high-temperature superconductors (HTS) in accelerator applications. This success has led to the worldwide acceptance of high-temperature and MgB2  superconductors and heralded the development and use of MgB2 in transmission systems suitable for very high currents. The IEEE further highlighted her commitment to building bridges between research and industry, showcased by her involvement in the development and production of these innovative systems at an industrial scale, and her R&D activity on superconductors (niobium–titanium, niobium–tin, MgB2 and HTS) for future particle accelerators.

After joining CERN as a PhD student in 1995, Ballarino worked on the reliable application of HTS in current leads, an innovation at the time. Later in her career, she was responsible for the several thousand current leads that power the superconducting magnets of the LHC. Following work on the commissioning of the LHC, Ballarino and her team delved into the development of MgB2-based transfer systems for the High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC), eventually making headlines in 2020 for operating the transmission of a whopping 110 kA (55 kA in each direction) over a 60-metre transmission link. This work was undertaken in parallel with that of developing and purchasing the advanced low- and high-temperature superconductors required for the HL-LHC magnets.

The development of MgB2 for practical applications and the ingenious use of cabled wire in a transmission system made the technological prowess of the superconducting link possible. MgB2, which was only recently discovered, transmits high current at up to 31 kelvin (-242°C), a higher temperature than conventional low-temperature superconductors, which sharply reduces operation costs and makes the technology susceptible to spread beyond particle accelerators. Links like these, which can transfer vast amounts of current within a small volume, could for example be used to deliver electricity in big cities or to connect renewable energy sources to populated areas. Liquid hydrogen is a potential coolant for such applications.

Amalia Ballarino is the first CERN expert to earn the IEEE James Wong Award for her pioneering work on superconductors. She is the latest in a series of CERN experts to be awarded with similar IEEE prizes: Daniel Leroy, Lucio Rossi, Herman ten Kate, Robert Aymar, Arnaud Devred and Luca Bottura were also all honoured by the IEEE, which makes CERN home to more winners than any other institution.

Find out more about Amalia's work in the CERN Courier.