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Stanford University Researchers Develop Tiny Electron Accelerator in Shoebox Size for Medical and Physics Breakthroughs

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01.03.2024 12:01, Gennady Detinich

Researchers from Stanford University developed and created a tiny electron accelerator that can be assembled in a package the size of a shoebox. They will someday replace mega-expensive accelerators for cutting-edge research in physics and bring dramatic changes to medical care, industry and even everyday life.

Image source: Moore Foundation/Payton Broaddus

Researchers have shown that a silicon dielectric laser accelerator (DLA) is capable of both accelerating and guiding electrons, creating a focused beam of high-energy electrons. “If electrons were microscopic cars, it would be like we got behind the wheel and stepped on the gas for the first time,” – explained Payton Broaddus, 23, a PhD candidate in electrical engineering and lead author of a paper published on February 23 detailed description breakthrough in the magazine Physical Review Letters.

Particle accelerators today are not particularly compact, ranging from the size of a decent desktop to the Large Hadron Collider with a ring almost 27 km long. These are expensive scientific instruments that can be fully used mainly by academic scientists. The creation of compact and relatively inexpensive or even inexpensive accelerators will make it possible to use them in medicine for detailed visualization of the internal tissues of human organs and for the treatment of tumors. Accelerators will help with the analysis of materials, substances and non-destructive quality control. Finally, there will be devices that can truly show the nitrate and even molecular composition of store-bought fruits and vegetables.

About 10 years ago, researchers at Stanford began experimenting with nanoscale structures made of silicon and glass that could withstand greater temperature changes without deformation than the metal parts of accelerators. In 2013, a prototype of a tiny glass accelerator using pulsed infrared lasers was created that successfully accelerated electrons. For this development, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, as part of the international cooperation Accelerator on Achip (ACHIP), allocated funds to create a mega-electron-volt accelerator the size of a shoebox.

Image of a track for creating a focused electron beam. Image source: Physical Review Letters

As a result of the research, a microstructure was developed that was capable of focusing a beam of electrons in two planes, accelerating and directing them along a horizontal plane. Electrons are introduced from one side of the submillimeter track, and pulsed laser illumination occurs at both ends. The proposed solution made it possible to impart an additional 25% of energy to electrons and accelerate them to 23.7 keV. This acceleration is comparable to the capabilities of classic desktop accelerators, but is implemented in “shoe box”.

Further improvement of the scheme will make it possible to increase the acceleration energy to the planned level of 1 MeV. A cascade of such accelerators or the initial use of other circuits, such as this one created by colleagues at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU), will make it possible to produce compact amplifiers that accelerate electrons to sub-light speeds. But this is work for the distant future. Now, although successful, only the first steps have been taken in this direction.

2024-03-01 09:01:00

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