Plasma Wakefield Acceleration – Cheap and Efficient

plasma wakefield acceleration

Researchers have found a new more effective way to speed up particles in accelerators, plasma wakefield acceleration.

In particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider, you have to accelerate particles close to the speed of light to study impacts of high enough energies. In linear accelerators adding energy to particles quickly is key if you want to reach high energies. Researchers at SLAC in California have taken an exciting step forward in how to add energy to particles quickly and efficiently.

Forget the TV – Plasma Wakefield Acceleration is here

Doing experiments in at the SLAC accelerator researchers have managed to impart 400-500 times more energy to a cloud of electrons.  Researchers managed to add the same amount of energy in less than 20 feet! A feat that usually requires 2 miles on the SLAC linear accelerator.

How did they do it?

By using plasma wakefield acceleration. This way accelerating particles have been an area of interest for over 35 years.  A recent study did manage to accelerate electrons using this method. The flaw of that study was that the energy was too uneven between the many electrons.

In this study researchers sent clouds made up of 5-6 billion electrons in pairs through a laser-generated column of hot plasma inside an oven of hot lithium gas. The first of the cloud-pairs blasted all the free electrons from the lithium leaving positively charged lithium atoms behind. These blasted electron fell into place behind the second cloud-pair of electrons forming a “plasma wake” that propelled them forward to a higher energy. This technique also shared the energy more evenly between the electrons in the cloud.

Researchers hope this new way of speeding up particles will make accelerators smaller and cheaper. The problem that remains is to further tweak the trailing bunch of electrons so that they get exactly the same energy boost from the plasma wake. Plasma wakefield acceleration could lead to smaller, more effective and cheaper linear accelerators something that would be very useful in medicine, industry and physics research.

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