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Scientists Build Chip-Size Particle Accelerator

The world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider, is an enormous structure that sits on an underground tunnel with a circumference of 17 miles and cost around $4.75 billion to construct. Now, a team of scientists has built a prototype particle accelerator on the other side of the spectrum, so small it can fit on a single chip. This major breakthrough is the initial step forward for the technology of the future.

The study—published in the scientific journal Science—states how researchers from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University built a particle accelerator small enough it can fit on a silicon chip. A particle accelerator is a machine that is used to propel particles like electrons and protons at extremely high speeds so as to create particle beams. And they can be huge. However, the one built by the Stanford scientists represents the latest breakthrough in particle accelerator technology given its varied uses. The chip that houses the particle accelerator has a complex design that is generated by a computer. Scientists claim that no human engineer would have come up with such a level of complex design.

Neil Sapra, the first author of the study, said: “The breakthrough is very important because until now the particle accelerators have been large and bulky (including the ones labeled as compact), regardless of their value.”

He added, “Particle accelerators are majorly used in the treatment of cancer and imaging technique, as well as industrial applications (including ion implantation, sterilization, and imaging), but typically accelerators for these applications would occupy entire rooms or cover up the backs of semi-trucks. These machines were based on radio-frequency waves that have a long wavelength.”

Sapra said that this particular accelerator is based on a much smaller wavelength and is known as a dielectric laser accelerator or DLA. It can be attributed to the smaller wavelength that allows the size to be significantly reduced. This makes it possible for the DLAs to be even more compact by an order of 10,000.

The team noted that such kinds of accelerators are capable of producing a fraction of the velocity that its large-counterparts can produce. Sapra said the breakthrough paves the way to make this significant technology more readily available and less expensive. The researchers say that with its easy accessibility and small size, the device could create a potential in those fields that were previously thought to be untapped.

Sapra said that the next step of the Accelerator on a Chip International Program (ACHIP) would be to achieve an accelerator that is capable of emitting 1 MeV energy beams. This next-gen accelerator would truly be a compact (about the size of a shoe-box or even smaller) one that could prove beneficial in medical, industrial, and scientific applications.

The team believes that breakthroughs made through this model’s construction will not only unveil new advances in the field of accelerators and encourage further advancements, but also bring significant and positive changes to the fields that depend on this technology.

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