A Desktop Particle Accelerator? Where Do I Pre-Order?

Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator (Image courtesy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)
By Andrew Liszewski

The scale and complexity of massive particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider allows them to make amazing scientific discoveries, but not every researcher has $2.2 billion lying around to build and fund one of their own. And that’s exactly what scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are hoping to overcome with their BELLA or Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator. In 2006 they showed that lasers could be used to accelerate electrons to very high energies in distances measured in centimeters instead of hundreds of meters using a technique described below:

Project leader Wim Leemans has spent much of his nearly 18 years at Berkeley Lab building lasers and working with laser accelerators. Collaborating with Simon Hooker of the University of Oxford, he and members of his group achieved a major breakthrough in 2006 when they broke the world record for laser-wakefield acceleration, a technique in which particles are accelerated by waves in plasma generated by intense pulses of laser light. In the wake of the laser pulse, electrons surf the waves of the ionized gas. Leemans and coworkers used this concept to accelerate electron beams to energies of more than 1 GeV in a distance of just 3.3 centimeters. Compare that to the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, or SLAC, which takes 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) to boost electrons to 50 GeV.

And while BELLA may never be as powerful as accelerators like the LHC or the SLAC, the scientists at Berkeley Lab are confident that the same techniques can be used to accelerate an electron to energies exceeding 10 GeV in a distance of just one meter. So in theory, one day you might actually be able to buy a rather capable particle accelerator that’s just a bit larger than your office’s photocopier. But since they produce massive amounts of radiation when running, you probably don’t want it sitting next to your desk. Maybe the new guy’s desk though… or the interns.

[ PR – BELLA: Accelerating Science by Accelerating Electrons ] VIA [ Popular Science ]