Scientists at TU Darmstadt, Germany, have created a design for a tiny electron accelerator that could be produced on a silicon microchip.
A particle accelerator is a machine which uses electromagnetic fields to accelerate elementary charged particles, such as electrons or protons, to very high energies. In a particle accelerator, the propelled charged particles are contained in well-defined beams. Particle accelerators are usually large and expensive to construct. However, smaller particle accelerators are also constructed and used in several applications, including particle therapy for oncological purposes, radioisotope production for medical diagnostics, and others.
The AChIP (Accelerator on a Chip International Programme) - being funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation - aims to build a smaller version of an electron accelerator. The programme is being led by Stanford University in the US.
The latest study was carried out by the AChIP group in accelerator physics (Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at TU Darmstadt) and led by junior scientist Dr. Uwe Niedermayer.
According to TU Darmstadt researchers, their newly designed electron accelerator will be small enough to be created on a silicon chip. It will not feature any metallic parts, but instead will be made of glass or silicon. Moreover, it will use a laser as an energy source in place of a microwave generator.
Because the electric field load capacity of glass is much higher, such a device will offer better acceleration rates than traditional accelerators. It will deliver the same amount of energy as produced by a traditional accelerator, while being about 10 times smaller.
A challenge for scientists while developing such an accelerator is that the vacuum channel for the electrons on a chip should be very small, and the electron beam produced in the device must be extremely focused. TU Darmstadt scientists say they have a solution for the problem.
The group proposes using laser fields to focus the electrons in a 420-nanometres-wide channel. Sudden changes in the phase of the electrons relative to the laser will lead to alternating focusing and de-focusing in two directions in the plane of the chip surface, which will produce stability in both directions.
According to the research team, the two-dimensional design of their electron accelerator can be realised using lithographic techniques, and it will potentially find applications in multiple industry and healthcare sector.
The findings of the study are published in journal Physical Review Letters.
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