Cheap accelerator

Published: Monday 31 March 1997

The accelerators used in particle physics are huge machines with marry kilometres of tunnels. The cost and labour required for making and operating such accelerators is proving to be even beyond the multinational collaborations. One novel idea to reduce the size and consequent cost of accelerators is the plasma wake acceleration of particles, particularly electrons. The basic principle of such an accelerator is to shoot a laser pulse into a gas which gets ionised, resulting in the acceleration of the electrons. A team of scientists at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute have recently announced that they have accelerated electrons to about 300 million electron volts. This is about three times the energy previously achieved. Though still a long way from using the technique for high energy physics, where one needs billions of electron volts, the demonstration has made researchers optimistic about the possibility of plasma wake acceleration in the near future (Science, Vol 275, No 5299).

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