In an advance that could dramatically shrink particle accelerators for science and medicine, researchers used a laser to accelerate electrons at a rate 10 times higher than conventional technology in a nanostructured glass chip smaller than a grain of rice.
“We still have a number of challenges before this technology becomes practical for real-world use, but eventually it would substantially reduce the size and cost of future high-energy particle colliders for exploring the world of fundamental particles and forces,” said Joel England, the SLAC physicist who led the experiments. “It could also help enable compact accelerators and X-ray devices for security scanning, medical therapy and imaging, and research in biology and materials science.”
Because it employs commercial lasers and low-cost, mass-production techniques, the researchers believe it will set the stage for new generations of “tabletop” accelerators.
At its full potential, the new “accelerator on a chip” could match the accelerating power of SLAC’s 2-mile-long linear accelerator in just 100 feet, and deliver a million more electron pulses per second.
This initial demonstration achieved an acceleration gradient, or amount of energy gained per length, of 300 million electronvolts per meter. That’s roughly 10 times the acceleration provided by the current SLAC linear accelerator.
“Our ultimate goal for this structure is 1 billion electronvolts per meter, and we’re already one-third of the way in our first experiment,” said Stanford Professor Robert Byer, the principal investigator for this research.
The key to the accelerator chips is tiny, precisely spaced ridges, which cause the iridescence seen in this close-up photo. (Brad Plummer/SLAC)
A proof-of-principle experiment demonstrating dielectric laser acceleration of non-relativistic electrons in the vicinity of a fused-silica grating is reported. The grating structure is utilized to generate an electromagnetic surface wave that travels synchronously with and efficiently imparts momentum on 28keV electrons. We observe a maximum acceleration gradient of 25MeV/m. We investigate in detail the parameter dependencies and find excellent agreement with numerical simulations. With the availability of compact and efficient fiber laser technology, these findings may pave the way towards an all-optical compact particle accelerator. This work also represents the demonstration of the inverse Smith-Purcell effect in the optical regime.
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