The Particle Accelerator Reinvented: Compact, Powerful, and Ready to Transform Science

Compact Accelerator Technology Art Concept

A collaborative research team has developed a compact particle accelerator capable of producing high-energy electron beams in a much smaller footprint than traditional accelerators. This breakthrough opens new possibilities in medical, semiconductor, and scientific research, with plans for further miniaturization and increased practicality.

Researchers have unveiled a compact particle accelerator that achieves high electron energies in a fraction of the space required by traditional accelerators, promising advancements in medical, scientific, and technological applications.

Particle accelerators hold great potential for semiconductor applications, medical imaging and therapy, and research in materials, energy, and medicine. But conventional accelerators require plenty of elbow room — kilometers — making them expensive and limiting their presence to a handful of national labs and universities.

Breakthrough in Accelerator Technology

Researchers from The University of Texas at Austin, several national laboratories, European universities, and the Texas-based company TAU Systems Inc. have demonstrated a compact particle accelerator less than 20 meters long that produces an electron beam with an energy of 10 billion electron volts (10 GeV). There are only two other accelerators currently operating in the U.S. that can reach such high electron energies, but both are approximately 3 kilometers long.

Gas Cell for Wakefield Laser Accelerator

This gas cell is a key component of a compact wakefield laser accelerator developed at The University of Texas at Austin. Inside, an extremely powerful laser strikes helium gas, heats it into a plasma and creates waves that kick electrons from the gas out in a high-energy electron beam. Credit: Bjorn “Manuel” Hegelich

“We can now reach those energies in 10 centimeters,” said Bjorn “Manuel” Hegelich, associate professor of physics at UT and CEO of TAU Systems, referring to the size of the chamber where the beam was produced. He is the senior author on a recent paper describing their achievement in the journal Matter and Radiation at Extremes.

Expanding Applications of Accelerator Technology

Hegelich and his team are currently exploring the use of their accelerator, called an advanced wakefield laser accelerator, for a variety of purposes. They hope to use it to test how well space-bound electronics can withstand radiation, to image the 3D internal structures of new semiconductor chip designs, and even to develop novel cancer therapies and advanced medical imaging techniques.

Gas Cell Drawing

Gas cell drawing. Inside, an extremely powerful laser strikes helium gas, heats it into a plasma and creates waves that kick electrons from the gas out in a high-energy electron beam. Nanoparticles—generated by a secondary laser shining through the top window and striking a metal plate—boost the energy transferred to the electrons. Credit: University of Texas at Austin

This kind of accelerator could also be used to drive another device called an X-ray free electron laser, which could take slow-motion movies of processes on the atomic or molecular scale. Examples of such processes include drug interactions with cells, changes inside batteries that might cause them to catch fire, chemical reactions inside solar panels, and viral proteins changing shape when infecting cells.

Technical Advancements and Future Goals

The concept of wakefield laser accelerators was first described in 1979. An extremely powerful laser strikes helium gas, heats it into a plasma, and creates waves that kick electrons from the gas out in a high-energy electron beam. During the past couple of decades, various research groups have developed more powerful versions. Hegelich and his team’s key advance relies on nanoparticles. An auxiliary laser strikes a metal plate inside the gas cell, which injects a stream of metal nanoparticles that boost the energy delivered to electrons from the waves.

The laser is like a boat skimming across a lake, leaving behind a wake, and electrons ride this plasma wave like surfers.

Compact Wakefield Laser Accelerator

A drawing of the compact wakefield laser accelerator developed at The University of Texas at Austin. A laser beam enters on the right side and travels into the gas cell where an electron beam is created, which travels eventually to two scintillating screens (DRZ1 and DRZ2) for analysis on the left side. Credit: University of Texas at Austin

“It’s hard to get into a big wave without getting overpowered, so wake surfers get dragged in by Jet Skis,” Hegelich said. “In our accelerator, the equivalent of Jet Skis are nanoparticles that release electrons at just the right point and just the right time, so they are all sitting there in the wave. We get a lot more electrons into the wave when and where we want them to be, rather than statistically distributed over the whole interaction, and that’s our secret sauce.”

For this experiment, the researchers used one of the world’s most powerful pulsed lasers, the Texas Petawatt Laser, which is housed at UT and fires one ultra-intense pulse of light every hour. A single petawatt laser pulse contains about 1,000 times the installed electrical power in the U.S. but lasts only 150 femtoseconds, less than a billionth as long as a lightning discharge. The team’s long-term goal is to drive their system with a laser they’re currently developing that fits on a tabletop and can fire repeatedly at thousands of times per second, making the whole accelerator far more compact and usable in much wider settings than conventional accelerators.

Reference: “The acceleration of a high-charge electron bunch to 10 GeV in a 10-cm nanoparticle-assisted wakefield accelerator” by Constantin Aniculaesei, Thanh Ha, Samuel Yoffe, Lance Labun, Stephen Milton, Edward McCary, Michael M. Spinks, Hernan J. Quevedo, Ou Z. Labun, Ritwik Sain, Andrea Hannasch, Rafal Zgadzaj, Isabella Pagano, Jose A. Franco-Altamirano, Martin L. Ringuette, Erhart Gaul, Scott V. Luedtke, Ganesh Tiwari, Bernhard Ersfeld, Enrico Brunetti, Hartmut Ruhl, Todd Ditmire, Sandra Bruce, Michael E. Donovan, Michael C. Downer, Dino A. Jaroszynski and Bjorn Manuel Hegelich, 15 November 2023, Matter and Radiation at Extremes.
DOI: 10.1063/5.0161687

The study’s co-first authors are Constantin Aniculaesei, corresponding author now at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Germany; and Thanh Ha, doctoral student at UT and researcher at TAU Systems. Other UT faculty members are professors Todd Ditmire and Michael Downer.

Hegelich and Aniculaesei have submitted a patent application describing the device and method to generate nanoparticles in a gas cell. TAU Systems, spun out of Hegelich’s lab, holds an exclusive license from the University for this foundational patent. As part of the agreement, UT has been issued shares in TAU Systems.

Support for this research was provided by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.

9 Comments on "The Particle Accelerator Reinvented: Compact, Powerful, and Ready to Transform Science"

  1. … if mr Albert said that E=m*c^2 and that has made mass and energy bit samish… however, that was cool… but why, if particles are carriers of forces there is no formula that say that forces and matter and energy are just samish…
    … gravity bit different, … hammer wont do it… one need something else too…

    PS … the thing BL lied… it is obvious… if he thought that … well he didn’t understand the thing… sorry for im…

    • The theory needs to be updated. According to topological vortex gravitational field theory, spin generates gravitation, spin generates energy, spin generates evolution, spin generates time. In the interaction of topological vortices, the world is an interconnected whole. Each particles has its own phase field. Every particles maintain the state of themselves in space and time through the interaction and balance of these phase fields.
      The interaction between materials and environmental factors very important, and its physical essence is the synchronous effect of topological vortices.
      Good luck to everyone.

      • I think that the particle accelerator could be a big breakthrough and would revolutionize the understanding of quantum mechanics
        Everyday is a new day to learn

        • You stupid scientists are just gonna send our planet to Hell with your stupid ideas!! This excelerator needs to be blown up!

  2. I would like to see a comparison to the large colliders.

  3. Rupam Kumar debnath | December 4, 2023 at 9:28 pm | Reply

    How do I go back past and changing my mistakes and save my mother life. Please help me 🙏 I am so sad. I believe you. please help me please…

    • According to topological vortex gravitational field theory, only when topological vortices and their twin antivortices cancel each other out can spacetime return to zero. Other forms of interaction are difficult to go back to. Please cherish the present and live each day well.
      Best wishes to you.

  4. Stop using Dalle3

  5. What kind of range does this thing have and is there a holster for it?

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