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Chip-sized particle accelerators

"The technology could also help the development of compact accelerators and X-ray devices that will be used for the purposes of security scans, medical treatment and imaging, as well as for research in the fields of biology and materials science."

Nanoscale chips with a length of only 3 mm, consisting of compressed silica glass, are used to accelerate electrons to a speed ten times higher than that obtained today in normal accelerators. (Brad Plummer/SLAC)
Nanometric chips with a length of only 3 mm, consisting of compressed silica glass, are used to accelerate electrons to a speed ten times higher than that obtained today in normal accelerators. (Brad Plummer/SLAC)

In a development that could dramatically advance the field of miniaturizing particle accelerators for scientific and medical purposes, researchers have succeeded in using lasers to accelerate electrons to speeds ten times higher than existing technologies, all within a nanometer glass chip the size of a grain of rice.

The achievement has long been described in the prestigious journal Nature by a team of researchers that included scientists from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory of the US Department of Energy (DOE) and scientists from Stanford University.

"We still face a number of challenges before this technology becomes a practical method for everyday use, but ultimately this technology will lead to a reduction in the size and cost of future devices where high-energy particle collisions take place, devices aimed at examining the physical world of particles and fundamental forces," said Joel England , the physicist from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory who was responsible for the research. "The technology could also help the development of compact accelerators and X-ray devices that will be used for the purposes of security scans, medical treatment and imaging, as well as for research in the fields of biology and materials science."

Since these devices are based on commercial lasers and cheap techniques used in mass production, the researchers believe that the new technology could pave the way for the development of a new generation of "tabletop" accelerators. When it reaches its full potential, the new "in-chip accelerator" will be able to match the acceleration power of the 3.2 km long linear accelerator located in the SLAC laboratory when it will be only 30 meters long, while producing a rate of electron pulses per second that is one million times higher than the existing one. The initial demonstration of this technology achieved an acceleration cascade, meaning the amount of energy achieved over a specified distance, of 300 million electrovolts per meter. This is a rate that is ten times higher than the rate of acceleration currently obtained from the linear accelerator in the laboratory. "Our ultimate goal for this technology is an acceleration rate of 1 billion electrovolts per meter, and we are already a third of the way there at the end of our first experiment," said Stanford University Professor Robert Byer, who is the lead researcher.

The accelerators that exist today use microwaves to increase the energy of the electrons. Researchers in the field will frequently look for more economical alternatives, and this new technology, which uses extremely fast lasers to operate the accelerator, is a leading candidate for these alternatives. Particles are usually accelerated in two separate stages: in the first stage they are accelerated to almost the speed of light. From this moment on, any further acceleration increases the energy stored in the electrons, but not their speed; This is the challenging part of the field.

In the experiments carried out with the help of the accelerator inside the chip, the electrons are accelerated in the first stage to almost the speed of light in a normal accelerator. In the next step, they are concentrated into an extremely thin hole half a micron high located in a compressed chip of silica glass. In the hole, nanometer grooves spaced from each other at precise intervals were engraved. A laser beam in the infrared range projected onto the surface of the slots produces electric fields that react with the electrons in the hole while increasing their energy.

Turning the accelerator inside the chip into a finished desktop accelerator will require the development of a more efficient way to accelerate the electrons before they enter the device itself. One of the possible future applications of this technology will be portable and small devices for producing X-ray radiation, such that could improve the medical care given to warriors injured during battles, and be installed inside cheaper and more efficient medical imaging devices for hospitals and laboratories.


A video describing the technology

The news about the study

Editor's note: This chip does not come to replace the huge particle accelerators such as the one in Saran, Despite what was written about it in other Israeli media but accelerators that are tens of centimeters long that are found in medical imaging devices such as MRI and in a number of small scientific devices, in which accelerators are also used for the purpose of identifying the composition of substances or testing the physical properties of a substance. Apart from the orders of magnitude, in the particle accelerators at Saran, the atomic nucleus is split into even smaller sub-particles, while in MRI, accelerated electrons are simply used and not other particles. An electron accelerator (as in Sarn) is a generic name for accelerating particles that are not necessarily electrons and here we are only talking about the electrons. father. And thanks also to Dr. Moshe Nachmani.

Comments

  1. There is another type of IR frequency light chip, which is used for long range application. It is called a waveguide, and the device is called Fourier Transform Infra Red (FTIR), and it has applications in testing blood pressure, many blood parameters, diabetes, spheroids, in non-invasive tests without a needle. It is understood that an optical spectrum analyzer of materials such as in CSI, is sometimes FTIR. There is no acceleration of photons here, but the creation of a phase shift between 2 waves from the same source, and interference between the waves, so that the Fourier transform of the light passing through the tested medium is obtained as a spectrum of the light passing through the medium.

  2. To the previous Yossi: Usually an electron beam is accelerated in a direction perpendicular to the magnetic field like in a cathode ray tube and projected onto a screen. The resulting image is perhaps the image of the brain.

  3. Since when are there particle accelerators in MRI??
    In MRI there is a large magnet that creates a magnetic field gradient and radio waves are transmitted over it. There is nothing charged that was shot there.

  4. Wow .. every time I am simply amazed anew by the amazing rate at which such sciences advance, especially in the face of others such as space exploration and rocket propulsion (a simpleton who cannot always avoid comparing futuristic subjects to this).
    There are so many things in the field today that even in science fiction books they never even thought of existing.

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