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Particle Accelerator Shrunk to Tiny Proportions with New Terahertz Technology

First Posted: Oct 06, 2015 10:42 AM EDT
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Physicists may have managed to shrink the particle accelerator. They've managed to build the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio frequency structures.

In the electromagnetic spectrum, terahertz radiation lies between infrared radiation and microwaves. Particle accelerators usually rely on electromagnetic radiation from the radio frequency range. For example, DESY's particle accelerator, PETRA III, uses a frequency of around 500 megahertz. The wavelength of the terahertz radiation used in this experiment, though, is around one thousand times shorter. This means that everything else can be smaller, as well.

In this latest project, the researchers used a special microstructured accelerator module, specifically tailored to be used with terahertz radiation. The physicists fired fast electrons into the miniature accelerator module using a type of electron gun. The electrons were then further accelerated by the terahertz radiation fed into the module. This first prototype of a terahertz accelerator was actually able to increase the energy of the particles by seven kiloelectronvolts (keV).

"This is not a particularly large acceleration, but the experiment demonstrates that the principle does work in practice," said Arya Fallahi of CFEL, co-author of the new study, in a news release. "The theory indicates that we should be able to achieve an accelerating gradient of up to one gigavolt per meter."

The new terahertz technology could be huge with regard to future linear accelerators for use in particle physics. In addition, the technology could be used as a means of building compact X-ray lasers and electron sources for use in materials research, as well as medical applications using X-rays and electron radiation.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

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