U.S. Researchers Build Compact Particle Accelerator To Rival(?) CERN

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Powered by one of the most powerful lasers in the world, researchers have broken a record with a tabletop accelerator.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkely National Lab have announced that they have found a way to accelerate subatomic particles to an energy magnitude 1,000 times that which is achieved at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. What is particularly and potentially fantastic for the future is that the Lab did this essentially in a box.

The Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle collider was built between 1998 and 2008 by the European Organization for Nuclear Research. The use the Collider allowed a research team to observe the Higgs boson, or “God Particle” in 2013. A discovery that remains contentious in the field of physics.

Compact particle accelerator: You need a really powerful laser

The Large Hadron Collider at CERN, using a series of electromagnetic fields can achieve 100 mega-electron volts per meter as particles travel the 17 mile circumference of the collider. The researchers in Berkely using petawatt laser and a 3.5 inch tube filled with plasma produced energy of 4.25 giga-electron volts. Thus, the researchers without threatening the plasma tubes integrity broke a world record. Of course, they also had access to one of the most powerful lasers in the world.

According to the report, the team used the Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator (BELLA) from a distance of 14 meters from the plasma tube to produce a beam of light with a quadrillian watts of power. The beam was focused into a 500 micro hole creating massive waves of energy that consequently accelerated the free electrons in the plasma. The researchers compared the way the plasma moves the free electrons to a surfer cutting across a wave to pick up speed.

“This result requires exquisite control over the laser and the plasma, we’re forcing this laser beam into a 500 micron hole about 14 meters away,” said Dr. Wim Leemans, director of the Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics Division at Berkeley. “The BELLA laser beam has sufficiently high pointing stability to allow us to use it.”

Compact particle accelerator: Not without a downside

This new means by which to accelerate particles is not without its problems.

“Small changes in the setup give you big perturbations,” said Eric Esarey, senior science adviser for the Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics Division at Berkeley Lab, who was in charge of the theory team. “We’re homing in on the regions of operation and the best ways to control the accelerator.”

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