Next step is to accelerate electrons in a confined form factor

Imagine if you could fit a particle accelerator in the palm of your hand.

That's the goal that a team of top engineers and physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University.  They're cooking up a "die shrunk" version of the current particle accelerator at SLAC that squeezes a 2-mile-long linear track down into 100 feet of nanostructured glass track.

The team's grain-sized pieces of demonstration silica are already producing electron pushing gradients ten times that found in their bulky brethren, SLAC.  The goal is to pump the gradient up even higher from 300 MEv/m^2 (million electron volts per meter squared) to 1 BEv/m^2.

This nanostructured glass could be the central power boosting point of stronger accelerators.
[Image Source: SLAC]

Stanford Univ. Applied Physics Prof. Robert Byer cheers, "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."

Stanford Acclerator : wid
[Image Source: SLAC]

But a key challenge is how to get the electrons "up to speed" before they enter the tiny glass channel -- which is roughly the size of a grain of rice -- which boosts their energy.  Electrons must be accelerated to nearly the speed of light before entering the system-on-a-chip boosting crystal, making dreams of a tabletop accelerator an unlikely fantasy -- for now, at least.

Peter Hommelhoff, a quantum physicist at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics is working to find a solution.  His team, which is collaborating on the Stanford project, believes that on-die lasers may hold the key to acceleration of electrons to near light speeds which could eventually be squeezed on a chip.

The X-ray free beams (free electron lasers) have many applications including Megawatt-class laser cannons, particle accelerators on par with SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source.  And allowing X-rays, they could also could be applied to portable medical imaging.

The studies are part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Advanced X-Ray Integrated Sources program, while the chips were made in the Stanford Nanofabrication Facility -- local cleanrooms.

The tiny, high energy acclerator components earned Prof. Byer and others a paper in the prestigious Nature Letters peer-reviewed journal.  Meanwhile their German collaborators -- Prof. Hommelhoff, et al. published a study in Physical Review Letters, a mid-range peer-review journal.

Sources: Stanford, Nature Letters, Physical Review Letters

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