Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

The Magnetic Capital of the World

Home to the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, the only facility of its kind in the United States, Tallahassee is attracting world-class companies eager to capitalize on high-caliber magnetics research and resources.

Every year, thousands of scientists from around the globe come to Tallahassee to use the world’s largest and highest-powered magnet lab. The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (or National MagLab as it is known locally) is the only facility of its kind in the U.S., operating for more than 25 years thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation and the state of Florida.

Home to a fleet of world record magnets and highly experienced scientists and technicians, the National MagLab welcomes scientists in myriad fields who use the lab’s unique magnets to probe fundamental questions about materials, energy, and life. The National MagLab’s 45-tesla hybrid magnet creates the strongest continuous magnetic field in the world. The lab also boasts the strongest magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine, which features an ultra-wide bore magnet with a field strength of 21.1 tesla (compared to a 1.5 tesla MRI found at most hospitals).

“While much of the science that happens at the MagLab is driven by scientific curiosity, the research can affect regular people’s everyday lives,” says Greg Boebinger, director of the National MagLab. “Magnetic fields are underutilized in the private sector, and we welcome industry to better leverage our lab’s research opportunities.”

The MagLab’s Magnetic Reach

Magnetic field research has played a critical role in developing new technologies used every day from electric lights and computers to motors, plastics, high-speed trains, and MRI. And the newest research coming from the MagLab is laying the building blocks for future technology, energy solutions, and cures for disease.

The far-reaching impacts include:

• Research on lithium batteries and more efficient fuel cells that could fundamentally change the way energy is stored and delivered.

• Solutions for efficient energy storage for renewable energy sources like clean wind and solar.

• Improvements to petroleum refining, converting abundant, lower-quality crude oil into usable fuel.

• New equipment for diagnosing brain cancer and gauging whether tumors have shrunk within days instead of the usual weeks or months.

• Research on certain materials that have unique optical, electrical, and magnetic properties that can be used for computer memory storage.

• Advances in understanding the causes of southern leaf blight, a fungal disease that affects food supplies.

• Exploration of semiconductors, superconductors, newly grown crystals, and materials from the natural world for development of new technologies.

• Detection of new biomarkers for cancer and understanding biochemical interactions within tumors.

• Improvements on design and energy efficiency of motors in car engines, air conditioners, robots, and other devices.

• Research to help build a molecular basis for engineering more effective human antifungal drugs.

• Deeper understanding about the structure of diseases and disorders, from cancer to HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s to Alzheimer’s, migraines and brain injuries to Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) that could lead to innovative drug development for global health threats.

• Research on superconductivity that could lead to smart electrical grids, power storage devices, or magnetic levitation.

• Work on buckytubes to help make products stronger and lighter, and a new carbon-based material, graphene, that may lead to an array of exciting products, from thin, flexible computer screens that can be rolled up like a sheet of paper to quantum computers that can process complex calculations.

Home Base to High-Powered Magnetics Research

Because of the global significance of the MagLab, the OEV appointed a Magnetic Taskforce of key stakeholders in the community to cultivate interest across industry sectors and continue developing the business ecosystem around magnetic technologies. The taskforce includes leaders from Danfoss Turbocor, the world’s leading manufacturer of oil-free, magnetic bearing compressors. When the company began scouting for a location for U.S. operations, Tallahassee was an obvious choice. Revolutionizing the industry through magnet technology, Danfoss Turbocor needed close proximity to the main source of knowledge for magnetic technologies in North America — the MagLab.

“We are highly dependent on magnetic science to enhance and further develop our technology,” says Ricardo Schneider, president, “and since we’ve been here, Tallahassee has become a critical location globally in the world of magnetics. There is no other place where you can find such a concentration of knowledge, talent, research laboratories, and companies all doing magnetic science. I don’t think people really know or understand what a big deal this is. Just as Palo Alto is the hub for technology, Tallahassee is quickly becoming the largest global magnetic ecosystem in the world.”

Danfoss Turbocor is more than a foundational member of Tallahassee’s applied sciences and advanced manufacturing community; it has become a key player in fostering collaboration among different industries and fields. The company has built relationships between the private sector and researchers, forged research agreements with FSU and FAMU, and is providing Tallahassee Community College with equipment for training tomorrow’s labor force.

“The pool of talent and knowledge, along with the opportunity to collaborate with researchers at Florida State and Florida A&M universities, the MagLab, and the College of Engineering, were signifi- cant factors in our expansion decision,” Schneider says. “Plus, our employees just like Tallahassee. There is really a great balance between the cultural life, natural surroundings, and stimulating mix of people.”

The MagLab may have attracted Danfoss Turbocor to Tallahassee, but the company made a conscious decision to stay because of the area’s quality of life and access to a talented workforce. The company will soon open a new facility in Innovation Park of Tallahassee, making an additional $18 million capital investment and creating over 120 new jobs.

A Hub for Innovation

Access to research is one thing. Having the right facilities in which to operate a company is another. The incubator program at Innovation Park of Tallahassee provides the infrastructure and support needed to utilize the magnetic research taking place at the MagLab.

“Clustering like-minded companies in Tallahassee to exploit the research in high field magnetics makes sense,” says Michael Tentnowski, director of entrepreneurship. “At Innovation Park, we provide the facilities and resources needed to help build this innovative web of support, including a wet lab, office space, meeting rooms, SBIR/ STTR assistance, presentation skills training, and guidance on gaining access to specialized equipment, labs, and researchers.”

As well as housing magnetic-minded companies, Innovation Park is home to other businesses based in science. One such company is QuarryBio, which guides drug companies through the early stages of drug discovery research as well as clinical trials. The company relocated to Tallahassee from Indiana because of the fantastic resources here. “We looked at several locations, but the wet lab space at Innovation Park was just perfect,” says Eric Graban, founder and CEO. “We have formed partnerships with FSU, which gives us access to expertise, libraries, and advisers who understand science-based businesses.”

Like Graban, Tentnowski has been impressed with the research and tech assets that Tallahassee has to offer. “There is a path of collaboration and innovation within the hard science community that is unique to our city,” he says.

The MagLab is not the only technology asset at Innovation Park. With support from the U.S. Navy, Office of Naval Research and the U.S. Department of Energy, the Center for Advanced Power Systems (CAPS) has established a unique test and demonstration facility with one of the largest real-time digital power systems simulators. The Center for Intelligent Systems, Controls, and Robotics (CISCOR) is dedicated to world-class research in robotics and has two focus areas: artificial intelligence and biologically inspired movement. They create robots that walk, crawl, and climb walls. The High-Performance Materials Institute is involved in composites and nanomaterials, advanced manufacturing, and data-driven process modeling. Even the FDOT conducts research at the park. The Structures Research Center provides research, testing, and evaluations of innovative structural components and bridge systems.

“There is great research going on, a strong tech community, and the universities open their doors to commercial licensing opportunities,” Tentnowski says.

Attractive Location for Magnet-Focused Companies

MagCorp is among the latest companies to spring up from the magnet technology business ecosystem emerging in Tallahassee. Co-founders Lezlee Richerson, Jeff Whalen, and Abby Queale are well-known in the field of magnetics; they have all lived and worked in Tallahassee for over a decade and as such recognized an unmet need: the ability to bring together industry, government, and science to bring magnet technologies to market in a way that is effective, collaborative, and understandable to all parties.

“If you make software, of course you’ll want to be in Silicon Valley,” says Whalen, who is also the STEM Entrepreneur in Residence at the Florida State University Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship. “If you’re in finance, you’re probably in New York. Medical technology? The Research Triangle in Raleigh/Durham. And magnet technology? Of course you need to be in Tallahassee.”

MagCorp is a technology development concierge for companies that use or could use today’s magnetic technology in their products, a onestop shop strategically located to help companies leverage the science being done in Tallahassee. “These technologies are quite sophisticated, and there are a lot of people who need experts in magnetism but don’t necessarily speak the language of the scientists,” explains Richerson. “MagCorp fills that middle gap. We can relate to both business people and scientists and quickly put the pieces together to solve our clients’ problems in a smooth and painless process for everyone.”

MagCorp helps clients manage the often expensive risks of developing their magnetic technology into smaller, more affordable pieces, ensuring that technology is sound and prototypes work before engaging in bigger commitments like full production. The company’s current clients come from myriad fields including biotechnology, health care, 3D printing, security, and more. “There’s so much more here than the world-class research that’s being done,” Queale says. “There is great growth potential for our community and local businesses because of the vibrant entrepreneurial culture and focus on magnet technology that is only found in Tallahassee. We see MagCorp as a conduit, a curator of innovation that’s located right here in Tallahassee to help companies all around the world with a magnetically enabled product or service to figure out how to develop and implement their magnet science. Our clients really like our business model because it lowers risk and provides product solutions at the speed that they need.”