Giant particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have become the poster children for big science. Immense in size, cost, and ambition, these gargantuan structures hurl particles at velocities close to the speed of light, in the hopes of uncovering the most basic constituents of matter and energy.
But when Wim Leemans gets his way, particle accelerators will be just another piece of lab equipment, no more obtrusive than a gene sequencer or a desktop printer.
Leemans heads up the BELLA program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where researchers have figured out how to accelerate particles over inches, not miles. Now, armed with new funding, the BELLA team looks to pack even more punch into a small space.
The BELLA accelerator uses synchronized lasers to speed up electrons over very short distances. But whereas the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLA) is 2 miles long, BELLA fits in a single room.
Of course, large accelerators like the SLA or CERN's famous LHC are far more powerful than BELLA, and thus able to investigate much smaller particles. However, BELLA scientists believe that they can daisy-chain together a number of lasers to create an accelerator as powerful as the big boys, in a fraction of the space.
Boosted by $20 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the BELLA project now aims to build on its 2006 success of accelerating a particle to a speed measured at billion electron volts (1 GeV) over a distance of only 1.3 inches.
That means the electron they accelerated reached almost half the speed of light. At those high velocities, scientists use measures of energy to denote the speed of an object (because E equals mc2, the speed and are related anyway).
Currently, the BELLA team is on track to create a 10 GeV accelerator by the end of 2013. In doing so, they are racing against European and Chinese teams also eyeing the prize of desktop accelerators.
To give you an idea of the difference in scale, and just because they're awesome, we've pulled together a look at some of our favorite accelerators.
[via Next Big Future]
how do they protect themselves from the radiation produced?
do they just stay out of the room while it's running?
What, only half the speed of light? 1 GeV energy for an electron would correspond to a speed of 99.99999% of the speed of light.
Yes, the area ("cave") containing the actual accelerator is closed and sealed while an experimental run is taking place. Massive concrete shielding separates the caves from the control room, so it's quite safe.
With any luck, BELLA will further revolutionize the field of laser wakefield acceleration, and accelerators in general. (full disclosure: I'm a student research assistant with the BELLA team)
the big "full scale ones at CERN make shure that there is no one in the test tunnel. the people that are still in there just die. no questions asked.
yes, there really are things that still make our handling of these energies look primitive. still, the advance here is a fresh breath of air in the vacuum of large scale colliders. So, still just trying to weaponize a maser. here i was hoping they would make a bunch of these, and use them on that other guy's plasma fusion project-now that would be worth paying to see...