I’m currently working at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California on my master’s project which focuses on lasers. I’m surrounded by incredibly cool equipment and amazing science. Since, I’m working at the home of the largest linear accelerator in the world I wanted to write an article about the coolest particle accelerators on Earth right now.
Possibly the most commonly known particle accelerator is the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva. It’s the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world with a diameter of 27 kilometres. It’s donut shaped and sits underground at a depth of about 100 metres. Not only was it cheaper to build underground but the Earth’s crust protects humans at the surface from any harmful radiation. At CERN, two beams of protons or lead ions are accelerated in the ring in different directions. The counter-circulating beams are then left to collide, and a myriad of exotic particles are produced. I like to think of CERN as a particle factory. Did you know that the interior of the accelerating donut is colder than outer space. CERN’s main aims are to find answers to the cosmos’ largest questions, including dark matter and dark energy.
You can find out more cool facts about CERN here.
SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is home to the longest linear particle accelerator in the world. It is a whopping 3,073.72 metres long or about 2 miles and is the longest modern building on Earth. This particle accelerator forms a big chunk of the x-ray free electron laser at SLAC known as Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS). In essence, the electrons are accelerated down the linear particle accelerator, and are then wiggled to produce x-rays which then form the XFEL. With the XFEL, scientists at SLAC can create molecular movies of chemical reactions and reveal the structure of proteins that are vital for life. A grand total of four Nobel prizes have been awarded for work carried out at SLAC.
The European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) is located in Grenoble, France and is home to the most intense and brilliant hard x-ray source in the world. Just like CERN, ESRF also has a donut shaped accelerator where electrons rather than protons are accelerated. And just like LCLS at SLAC, ESRF use their x-rays to take science movies of individual atoms moving in important biochemical reactions as well as explore the inner structure of planets.
In a nutshell, all particle accelerators have one aim: to accelerate particles. All the accelerators I’ve shown here use vacuum ‘tubes’ where radio frequency waves are sent down them to accelerate the charged particles. These particle accelerators are some of the coolest particle accelerators on Earth and amazing science happens at each location. It is very cool to see what international collaboration can do.
Original Date: Aug 22 2018