The key to the accelerator chips is tiny, precisely spaced ridges, which cause the iridescence seen in this close-up photo. Image Credit: Matt Beardsley, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
A new technique for the acceleration of electrons could have major implications for materials science research and medical treatment.
The team behind the research used fused silica glass chip smaller than a grain of rice, patterned with nanoscale ridges, to accelerate the electrons with the aid of infrared lasers.
Initially the electrons are accelerated by conventional methods and focussed into the ridges which are less than 1/200th the thickness of a human hair. The laser light then creates electrical fields that increase the energy of the electrons, leading to a rate of acceleration 10 times higher than that seen whilst using conventional methods.
"Our ultimate goal for this structure is 1 billion electronvolts per meter, and we're already one-third of the way in our first experiment," - Robert Byer, Stanford Professor
Accelerator on a Chip: How It Works
Using lasers to accelerate particles, as opposed to the microwaves used in current accelerators, provides a more economical alternative for particle acceleration, as it uses commercial lasers and low-cost, mass-production techniques.
Furthermore, the new technique could lead to much smaller ‘tabletop’ accelerator devices which would be much more suited to practical applications than the 2-mile-long linear accelerator currently employed at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.
Accelerator on a Chip
Potential future applications for the technique include improved imaging systems for hospitals, as well as advancements in materials science and biological research.
Joel England, the SLAC physicist who led the experiments, explains further below:
"We still have a number of challenges before this technology becomes practical for real-world use, but eventually it would substantially reduce the size and cost of future high-energy particle colliders for exploring the world of fundamental particles and forces. It could also help enable compact accelerators and X-ray devices for security scanning, medical therapy and imaging, and research in biology and materials science."
Another beneficial application may be the in-situ treatment of soldiers in combat situations, utilising small and portable X-Ray sources.
SLAC and Stanford scientists used nanofabricated chips of fused silica just three millimeters long to accelerate electrons at a rate 10 times higher than conventional particle accelerator technology. Image Credit: Matt Beardsley, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
Original source: DOE/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory