Nov 23, 2015

Particle Accelerators Could Soon Fit In A Shoebox

Posted by in categories: computing, particle physics

As the challenges of particle physics have become more and more complex, we’ve had to plan and build larger and larger machines to explore the tiny subatomic world. But now, an international group of physicists has developed a technology to miniaturize particle accelerators, which could revolutionize physics and the life sciences.

The team has received a $13.5 million (£9 million) grant to develop a prototype particle accelerator that will fit in a shoebox. The technology being developed is called “accelerator-on-a-chip”. Electrons are made to travel through a channel within a silica chip. Shining a laser onto the chip produces an electric field, and the field is modified by the ridges within the channel. This set-up dramatically accelerates the electrons moving through the channel.

The prototype is based on independent experiments from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California and Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) in Germany. Both teams discovered that these chips are capable of accelerating electrons to relativistic speed no matter the speed at which the electron was travelling before entering the channel. Also, the technology is capable of producing a larger acceleration gradient than current labs, which could reduce the size of particle accelerators – 100 meters (330 feet) of accelerator-on-a-chip would produce an acceleration equivalent to the 3.2-kilometer (two miles) SLAC linear accelerator, which is the longest in the world.

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