Nav: Home

$13.5 million Moore grant to develop working 'accelerator on a chip' prototype

November 19, 2015

Menlo Park, Calif. -- The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has awarded $13.5 million to Stanford University for an international effort, including key contributions from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, to build a working particle accelerator the size of a shoebox based on an innovative technology known as "accelerator on a chip."

This novel technique, which uses laser light to propel electrons through a series of artfully crafted glass chips, has the potential to revolutionize science, medicine and other fields by dramatically shrinking the size and cost of particle accelerators.

"Can we do for particle accelerators what the microchip industry did for computers?" said SLAC physicist Joel England, an investigator with the 5-year project. "Making them much smaller and cheaper would democratize accelerators, potentially making them available to millions of people. We can't even imagine the creative applications they would find for this technology."

Robert L. Byer, a Stanford professor of applied physics and co-principal investigator for the project who has been working on the idea for 40 years, said, "Based on our proposed revolutionary design, this prototype could set the stage for a new generation of 'tabletop' accelerators, with unanticipated discoveries in biology and materials science and potential applications in security scanning, medical therapy and X-ray imaging."

The Chip that Launched an International Quest

The international effort to make a working prototype of the little accelerator was inspired by experiments led by scientists at SLAC and Stanford and, independently, at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) in Germany. Both teams demonstrated the potential for accelerating particles with lasers in papers published on the same day in 2013.

In the SLAC/Stanford experiments, published in Nature, electrons were first accelerated to nearly light speed in a SLAC accelerator test facility. At this point they were going about as fast as they can go, and any additional acceleration would boost their energy, not their speed.

The speeding electrons then entered a chip made of silica glass and traveled through a microscopic tunnel that had tiny ridges carved into its walls. Laser light shining on the chip interacted with those ridges and produced an electrical field that boosted the energy of the passing electrons.

In the experiments, the chip achieved an acceleration gradient, or energy boost over a given distance, roughly 10 times higher than the SLAC linear accelerator can provide. At full potential, this means the 2-mile-linac could be replaced with a series of accelerator chips 100 meters long ¬- roughly the length of a football field. .

In a parallel approach, experiments led by Peter Hommelhoff of FAU and published in Physical Review Letters demonstrated that a laser could also be used to accelerate lower-energy electrons that had not first been boosted to nearly light speed. Both results taken together open the door to a compact particle accelerator.

A Tough, High-payoff Challenge

For the past 75 years, particle accelerators have been an essential tool for physics, chemistry, biology and medicine, leading to multiple Nobel prize-winning discoveries. They are used to collide particles at high energies for studies of fundamental physics, and also to generate intense X-ray beams for a wide range of experiments in materials, biology, chemistry and other fields. But without new technology to reduce the cost and size of high-energy accelerators, progress in particle physics and structural biology could stall.

The challenges of building the prototype accelerator are substantial, the scientists said. Demonstrating that a single chip works was an important step; now they must work out the optimal chip design and the best way to generate and steer electrons, distribute laser power among multiple chips and make electron beams that are 1,000 times smaller in diameter to go through the microscopic chip tunnels, among a host of other technical details.

"The chip is the most crucial ingredient, but a working accelerator is way more than just this component," said Hommelhoff, a professor of physics and co-principal investigator of the project. "We know what the main challenges will be and we don't know how to solve them yet. But as scientists we thrive on this type of challenge. It requires a very diverse set of expertise, and we have brought a great crowd of people together to tackle it."

The Stanford-led collaboration includes world-renowned experts in accelerator physics, laser physics, nanophotonics and nanofabrication. SLAC and two other national laboratories ­- Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Germany and Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland - will contribute expertise and make their facilities available for experiments. In addition to FAU, five other universities and one industry partner are involved in the effort: University of California, Los Angeles, Purdue University, University of Hamburg, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), Technical University of Darmstadt and Tech-X Corporation.

"The accelerator-on-a-chip project has terrific scientists pursuing a great idea. We'll know they've succeeded when they advance from the proof of concept to a working prototype," said Robert Kirshner, chief program officer of science at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. "This research is risky, but the Moore Foundation is not afraid of risk when a novel approach holds the potential for a big advance in science. Making things small to produce immense returns is what Gordon Moore did for microelectronics."
-end-
SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, California, SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. To learn more, please visit http://www.slac.stanford.edu.

Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. Visit http://www.moore.org or follow @MooreFound.

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

DOE/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Related Electrons Articles:

Hot electrons harvested without tricks
Semiconductors convert energy from photons into an electron current. However, some photons carry too much energy for the material to absorb.
Cooling nanotube resonators with electrons
In a study in Nature Physics, ICFO researchers report on a technique that uses electron transport to cool a nanomechanical resonator near the quantum regime.
New method for detecting quantum states of electrons
Researchers in the Quantum Dynamics Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) devised a new method -- called image charge detection -- to detect electrons' transitions to quantum states.
Slow electrons to combat cancer
Slow electons can be used to destroy cancer cells - but how exactly this happens has not been well understood.
How light steers electrons in metals
Researchers in the Department of Physics of ETH Zurich have measured how electrons in so-called transition metals get redistributed within a fraction of an optical oscillation cycle.
Twisting whirlpools of electrons
Using a novel approach, EPFL physicists have been able to create ultrafast electron vortex beams, with significant implications for fundamental physics, quantum computing, future data-storage and even certain medical treatments.
Inner electrons behave differently in aromatic hydrocarbons
In an international research collaboration between Tsinghua University in Beijing and Sorbonne University in Paris, scientists found that four hydrocarbon molecules, known for their internal ring structure, have a lower threshold for the release of excess energy than molecules without a similar ring structure, because one of their electrons decays from a higher to a lower energy level, a phenomenon called the Auger effect.
Exotic spiraling electrons discovered by physicists
Rutgers and other physicists have discovered an exotic form of electrons that spin like planets and could lead to advances in lighting, solar cells, lasers and electronic displays.
Racing electrons under control
The advantage is that electromagnetic light waves oscillate at petaherz frequency.
Electrons go with the flow
You turn on a switch and the light switches on because electricity 'flows'.
More Electrons News and Electrons Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.