Particle accelerator

A particle accelerator is a machine that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to very high speeds and energies, and to contain them in well-defined beams.[1]

Large accelerators are used for basic research in particle physics. The most powerful accelerator currently is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland, built by the European collaboration CERN. It is a collider accelerator, which can accelerate two beams of protons to an energy of 6.5 TeV and cause them to collide head-on, creating center-of-mass energies of 13 TeV. Other powerful accelerators are KEKB at KEK in Japan, RHIC at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and the Tevatron at Fermilab, Batavia, Illinois. Accelerators are also used as synchrotron light sources for the study of condensed matter physics. Smaller particle accelerators are used in a wide variety of applications, including particle therapy for oncological purposes, radioisotope production for medical diagnostics, ion implanters for manufacture of semiconductors, and accelerator mass spectrometers for measurements of rare isotopes such as radiocarbon. There are currently more than 30,000 accelerators in operation around the world.[2]

There are two basic classes of accelerators: electrostatic and electrodynamic (or electromagnetic) accelerators. [3] Electrostatic accelerators use static electric fields to accelerate particles. The most common types are the Cockcroft–Walton generator and the Van de Graaff generator. A small-scale example of this class is the cathode ray tube in an ordinary old television set. The achievable kinetic energy for particles in these devices is determined by the accelerating voltage, which is limited by electrical breakdown. Electrodynamic or electromagnetic accelerators, on the other hand, use changing electromagnetic fields (either magnetic induction or oscillating radio frequency fields) to accelerate particles. Since in these types the particles can pass through the same accelerating field multiple times, the output energy is not limited by the strength of the accelerating field. This class, which was first developed in the 1920s, is the basis for most modern large-scale accelerators.

Rolf Widerøe, Gustav Ising, Leó Szilárd, Max Steenbeck, and Ernest Lawrence are considered pioneers of this field, conceiving and building the first operational linear particle accelerator,[4] the betatron, and the cyclotron.

Because colliders can give evidence of the structure of the subatomic world, accelerators were commonly referred to as atom smashers in the 20th century.[5] Despite the fact that most accelerators (but not ion facilities) actually propel subatomic particles, the term persists in popular usage when referring to particle accelerators in general.[6][7][8]

The Tevatron, a synchrotron collider type particle accelerator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), Batavia, Illinois, USA. Shut down in 2011, it was the second most powerful particle accelerator in the world, accelerating protons to an energy of over 1 TeV (tera electron volts).
Linear accelerator animation 16frames 1.6sec
Animation showing the operation of a linear accelerator, widely used in both physics research and cancer treatment.


Particle accelerator DSC09089
Beamlines leading from the Van de Graaff accelerator to various experiments, in the basement of the Jussieu Campus in Paris.
Breakdown of the cumulative number of industrial accelerators according to their applications
Breakdown of the cumulative number of industrial particle accelerators according to their applications.
Weizmann Institute particle accelerator
The now disused Koffler particle accelerator at the Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, Israel.

Beams of high-energy particles are useful for fundamental and applied research in the sciences, and also in many technical and industrial fields unrelated to fundamental research. It has been estimated that there are approximately 30,000 accelerators worldwide. Of these, only about 1% are research machines with energies above 1 GeV, while about 44% are for radiotherapy, 41% for ion implantation, 9% for industrial processing and research, and 4% for biomedical and other low-energy research.[9] The bar graph shows the breakdown of the number of industrial accelerators according to their applications. The numbers are based on 2012 statistics available from various sources, including production and sales data published in presentations or market surveys, and data provided by a number of manufacturers.[10]

High-energy physics

For the most basic inquiries into the dynamics and structure of matter, space, and time, physicists seek the simplest kinds of interactions at the highest possible energies. These typically entail particle energies of many GeV, and the interactions of the simplest kinds of particles: leptons (e.g. electrons and positrons) and quarks for the matter, or photons and gluons for the field quanta. Since isolated quarks are experimentally unavailable due to color confinement, the simplest available experiments involve the interactions of, first, leptons with each other, and second, of leptons with nucleons, which are composed of quarks and gluons. To study the collisions of quarks with each other, scientists resort to collisions of nucleons, which at high energy may be usefully considered as essentially 2-body interactions of the quarks and gluons of which they are composed. Thus elementary particle physicists tend to use machines creating beams of electrons, positrons, protons, and antiprotons, interacting with each other or with the simplest nuclei (e.g., hydrogen or deuterium) at the highest possible energies, generally hundreds of GeV or more.

The largest and highest energy particle accelerator used for elementary particle physics is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, operating since 2009.[11]

Nuclear physics and isotope production

Nuclear physicists and cosmologists may use beams of bare atomic nuclei, stripped of electrons, to investigate the structure, interactions, and properties of the nuclei themselves, and of condensed matter at extremely high temperatures and densities, such as might have occurred in the first moments of the Big Bang. These investigations often involve collisions of heavy nuclei – of atoms like iron or gold – at energies of several GeV per nucleon. The largest such particle accelerator is the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Particle accelerators can also produce proton beams, which can produce proton-rich medical or research isotopes as opposed to the neutron-rich ones made in fission reactors; however, recent work has shown how to make 99Mo, usually made in reactors, by accelerating isotopes of hydrogen,[12] although this method still requires a reactor to produce tritium. An example of this type of machine is LANSCE at Los Alamos.

Synchrotron radiation

Besides being of fundamental interest, electrons accelerated in the magnetic field causes the high energy electrons to emit extremely bright and coherent beams of high energy photons via synchrotron radiation in the continuous spectrum, which have numerous uses in the study of atomic structure, chemistry, condensed matter physics, biology, and technology. A large number of synchrotron light sources exist worldwide. Examples in the US are SSRL and LCLS at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, APS at Argonne National Laboratory, ALS at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and NSLS at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The ESRF in Grenoble, France has been used to extract detailed 3-dimensional images of insects trapped in amber.[13] Thus there is a great demand for electron accelerators of moderate (GeV) energy and high intensity.

Low-energy machines and particle therapy

Everyday examples of particle accelerators are cathode ray tubes found in television sets and X-ray generators. These low-energy accelerators use a single pair of electrodes with a DC voltage of a few thousand volts between them. In an X-ray generator, the target itself is one of the electrodes. A low-energy particle accelerator called an ion implanter is used in the manufacture of integrated circuits.

At lower energies, beams of accelerated nuclei are also used in medicine as particle therapy, for the treatment of cancer.

DC accelerator types capable of accelerating particles to speeds sufficient to cause nuclear reactions are Cockcroft-Walton generators or voltage multipliers, which convert AC to high voltage DC, or Van de Graaff generators that use static electricity carried by belts.

Electrostatic particle accelerators

2mv accelerator-MJC01
A 1960s single stage 2 MeV linear Van de Graaff accelerator, here opened for maintenance

Historically, the first accelerators used simple technology of a single static high voltage to accelerate charged particles. The charged particle was accelerated through an evacuated tube with an electrode at either end, with the static potential across it. Since the particle passed only once through the potential difference, the output energy was limited to the accelerating voltage of the machine. While this method is still extremely popular today, with the electrostatic accelerators greatly out-numbering any other type, they are more suited to lower energy studies owing to the practical voltage limit of about 1 MV for air insulated machines, or 30 MV when the accelerator is operated in a tank of pressurized gas with high dielectric strength, such as sulfur hexafluoride. In a tandem accelerator the potential is used twice to accelerate the particles, by reversing the charge of the particles while they are inside the terminal. This is possible with the acceleration of atomic nuclei by using anions (negatively charged ions), and then passing the beam through a thin foil to strip electrons off the anions inside the high voltage terminal, converting them to cations (positively charged ions), which are accelerated again as they leave the terminal.

The two main types of electrostatic accelerator are the Cockcroft-Walton accelerator, which uses a diode-capacitor voltage multiplier to produce high voltage, and the Van de Graaff accelerator, which uses a moving fabric belt to carry charge to the high voltage electrode. Although electrostatic accelerators accelerate particles along a straight line, the term linear accelerator is more often used for accelerators that employ oscillating rather than static electric fields.

Electrodynamic (electromagnetic) particle accelerators

Due to the high voltage ceiling imposed by electrical discharge, in order to accelerate particles to higher energies, techniques involving dynamic fields rather than static fields are used. Electrodynamic acceleration can arise from either of two mechanisms: non-resonant magnetic induction, or resonant circuits or cavities excited by oscillating RF fields. [14] Electrodynamic accelerators can be linear, with particles accelerating in a straight line, or circular, using magnetic fields to bend particles in a roughly circular orbit.

Magnetic induction accelerators

Magnetic induction accelerators accelerate particles by induction from an increasing magnetic field, as if the particles were the secondary winding in a transformer. The increasing magnetic field creates a circulating electric field which can be configured to accelerate the particles. Induction accelerators can be either linear or circular.

Linear induction accelerators

Linear induction accelerators utilize ferrite-loaded, non-resonant induction cavities. Each cavity can be thought of as two large washer-shaped disks connected by an outer cylindrical tube. Between the disks is a ferrite toroid. A voltage pulse applied between the two disks causes an increasing magnetic field which inductively couples power into the charged particle beam.[15]

The linear induction accelerator was invented by Christofilos in the 1960s.[16] Linear induction accelerators are capable of accelerating very high beam currents (>1000 A) in a single short pulse. They have been used to generate X-rays for flash radiography (e.g. DARHT at LANL), and have been considered as particle injectors for magnetic confinement fusion and as drivers for free electron lasers.


The Betatron is circular magnetic induction accelerator, invented by Donald Kerst in 1940 for accelerating electrons. The concept originates ultimately from Norwegian-German scientist Rolf Widerøe. These machines, like synchrotrons, use a donut-shaped ring magnet (see below) with a cyclically increasing B field, but accelerate the particles by induction from the increasing magnetic field, as if they were the secondary winding in a transformer, due to the changing magnetic flux through the orbit.[17][18]

Achieving constant orbital radius while supplying the proper accelerating electric field requires that the magnetic flux linking the orbit be somewhat independent of the magnetic field on the orbit, bending the particles into a constant radius curve. These machines have in practice been limited by the large radiative losses suffered by the electrons moving at nearly the speed of light in a relatively small radius orbit.

Linear accelerators

Desy tesla cavity01
Modern superconducting radio frequency, multicell linear accelerator component.

In a linear particle accelerator (linac), particles are accelerated in a straight line with a target of interest at one end. They are often used to provide an initial low-energy kick to particles before they are injected into circular accelerators. The longest linac in the world is the Stanford Linear Accelerator, SLAC, which is 3 km (1.9 mi) long. SLAC is an electron-positron collider.

Linear high-energy accelerators use a linear array of plates (or drift tubes) to which an alternating high-energy field is applied. As the particles approach a plate they are accelerated towards it by an opposite polarity charge applied to the plate. As they pass through a hole in the plate, the polarity is switched so that the plate now repels them and they are now accelerated by it towards the next plate. Normally a stream of "bunches" of particles are accelerated, so a carefully controlled AC voltage is applied to each plate to continuously repeat this process for each bunch.

As the particles approach the speed of light the switching rate of the electric fields becomes so high that they operate at radio frequencies, and so microwave cavities are used in higher energy machines instead of simple plates.

Linear accelerators are also widely used in medicine, for radiotherapy and radiosurgery. Medical grade linacs accelerate electrons using a klystron and a complex bending magnet arrangement which produces a beam of 6-30 MeV energy. The electrons can be used directly or they can be collided with a target to produce a beam of X-rays. The reliability, flexibility and accuracy of the radiation beam produced has largely supplanted the older use of cobalt-60 therapy as a treatment tool.

Circular or cyclic RF accelerators

In the circular accelerator, particles move in a circle until they reach sufficient energy. The particle track is typically bent into a circle using electromagnets. The advantage of circular accelerators over linear accelerators (linacs) is that the ring topology allows continuous acceleration, as the particle can transit indefinitely. Another advantage is that a circular accelerator is smaller than a linear accelerator of comparable power (i.e. a linac would have to be extremely long to have the equivalent power of a circular accelerator).

Depending on the energy and the particle being accelerated, circular accelerators suffer a disadvantage in that the particles emit synchrotron radiation. When any charged particle is accelerated, it emits electromagnetic radiation and secondary emissions. As a particle traveling in a circle is always accelerating towards the center of the circle, it continuously radiates towards the tangent of the circle. This radiation is called synchrotron light and depends highly on the mass of the accelerating particle. For this reason, many high energy electron accelerators are linacs. Certain accelerators (synchrotrons) are however built specially for producing synchrotron light (X-rays).

Since the special theory of relativity requires that matter always travels slower than the speed of light in a vacuum, in high-energy accelerators, as the energy increases the particle speed approaches the speed of light as a limit, but never attains it. Therefore, particle physicists do not generally think in terms of speed, but rather in terms of a particle's energy or momentum, usually measured in electron volts (eV). An important principle for circular accelerators, and particle beams in general, is that the curvature of the particle trajectory is proportional to the particle charge and to the magnetic field, but inversely proportional to the (typically relativistic) momentum.


Berkeley 60-inch cyclotron
Lawrence's 60 inch cyclotron, with magnet poles 60 inches (5 feet, 1.5 meters) in diameter, at the University of California Lawrence Radiation Laboratory, Berkeley, in August, 1939, the most powerful accelerator in the world at the time. Glenn T. Seaborg and Edwin McMillan (right) used it to discover plutonium, neptunium and many other transuranic elements and isotopes, for which they received the 1951 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

The earliest operational circular accelerators were cyclotrons, invented in 1929 by Ernest Lawrence at the University of California, Berkeley. Cyclotrons have a single pair of hollow 'D'-shaped plates to accelerate the particles and a single large dipole magnet to bend their path into a circular orbit. It is a characteristic property of charged particles in a uniform and constant magnetic field B that they orbit with a constant period, at a frequency called the cyclotron frequency, so long as their speed is small compared to the speed of light c. This means that the accelerating D's of a cyclotron can be driven at a constant frequency by a radio frequency (RF) accelerating power source, as the beam spirals outwards continuously. The particles are injected in the centre of the magnet and are extracted at the outer edge at their maximum energy.

Cyclotrons reach an energy limit because of relativistic effects whereby the particles effectively become more massive, so that their cyclotron frequency drops out of synch with the accelerating RF. Therefore, simple cyclotrons can accelerate protons only to an energy of around 15 million electron volts (15 MeV, corresponding to a speed of roughly 10% of c), because the protons get out of phase with the driving electric field. If accelerated further, the beam would continue to spiral outward to a larger radius but the particles would no longer gain enough speed to complete the larger circle in step with the accelerating RF. To accommodate relativistic effects the magnetic field needs to be increased to higher radii as is done in isochronous cyclotrons. An example of an isochronous cyclotron is the PSI Ring cyclotron in Switzerland, which provides protons at the energy of 590 MeV which corresponds to roughly 80% of the speed of light. The advantage of such a cyclotron is the maximum achievable extracted proton current which is currently 2.2 mA. The energy and current correspond to 1.3 MW beam power which is the highest of any accelerator currently existing.

Synchrocyclotrons and isochronous cyclotrons

Orsay proton therapy dsc04444
A magnet in the synchrocyclotron at the Orsay proton therapy center

A classic cyclotron can be modified to increase its energy limit. The historically first approach was the synchrocyclotron, which accelerates the particles in bunches. It uses a constant magnetic field , but reduces the accelerating field's frequency so as to keep the particles in step as they spiral outward, matching their mass-dependent cyclotron resonance frequency. This approach suffers from low average beam intensity due to the bunching, and again from the need for a huge magnet of large radius and constant field over the larger orbit demanded by high energy.

The second approach to the problem of accelerating relativistic particles is the isochronous cyclotron. In such a structure, the accelerating field's frequency (and the cyclotron resonance frequency) is kept constant for all energies by shaping the magnet poles so to increase magnetic field with radius. Thus, all particles get accelerated in isochronous time intervals. Higher energy particles travel a shorter distance in each orbit than they would in a classical cyclotron, thus remaining in phase with the accelerating field. The advantage of the isochronous cyclotron is that it can deliver continuous beams of higher average intensity, which is useful for some applications. The main disadvantages are the size and cost of the large magnet needed, and the difficulty in achieving the high magnetic field values required at the outer edge of the structure.

Synchrocyclotrons have not been built since the isochronous cyclotron was developed.


Aerial photo of the Tevatron at Fermilab, which resembles a figure eight. The main accelerator is the ring above; the one below (about half the diameter, despite appearances) is for preliminary acceleration, beam cooling and storage, etc.

To reach still higher energies, with relativistic mass approaching or exceeding the rest mass of the particles (for protons, billions of electron volts or GeV), it is necessary to use a synchrotron. This is an accelerator in which the particles are accelerated in a ring of constant radius. An immediate advantage over cyclotrons is that the magnetic field need only be present over the actual region of the particle orbits, which is much narrower than that of the ring. (The largest cyclotron built in the US had a 184-inch-diameter (4.7 m) magnet pole, whereas the diameter of synchrotrons such as the LEP and LHC is nearly 10 km. The aperture of the two beams of the LHC is of the order of a centimeter.)

However, since the particle momentum increases during acceleration, it is necessary to turn up the magnetic field B in proportion to maintain constant curvature of the orbit. In consequence, synchrotrons cannot accelerate particles continuously, as cyclotrons can, but must operate cyclically, supplying particles in bunches, which are delivered to a target or an external beam in beam "spills" typically every few seconds.

Since high energy synchrotrons do most of their work on particles that are already traveling at nearly the speed of light c, the time to complete one orbit of the ring is nearly constant, as is the frequency of the RF cavity resonators used to drive the acceleration.

In modern synchrotrons, the beam aperture is small and the magnetic field does not cover the entire area of the particle orbit as it does for a cyclotron, so several necessary functions can be separated. Instead of one huge magnet, one has a line of hundreds of bending magnets, enclosing (or enclosed by) vacuum connecting pipes. The design of synchrotrons was revolutionized in the early 1950s with the discovery of the strong focusing concept.[19][20][21] The focusing of the beam is handled independently by specialized quadrupole magnets, while the acceleration itself is accomplished in separate RF sections, rather similar to short linear accelerators. Also, there is no necessity that cyclic machines be circular, but rather the beam pipe may have straight sections between magnets where beams may collide, be cooled, etc. This has developed into an entire separate subject, called "beam physics" or "beam optics".[22]

More complex modern synchrotrons such as the Tevatron, LEP, and LHC may deliver the particle bunches into storage rings of magnets with a constant magnetic field, where they can continue to orbit for long periods for experimentation or further acceleration. The highest-energy machines such as the Tevatron and LHC are actually accelerator complexes, with a cascade of specialized elements in series, including linear accelerators for initial beam creation, one or more low energy synchrotrons to reach intermediate energy, storage rings where beams can be accumulated or "cooled" (reducing the magnet aperture required and permitting tighter focusing; see beam cooling), and a last large ring for final acceleration and experimentation.

Segment of an electron synchrotron at DESY

Circular electron accelerators fell somewhat out of favor for particle physics around the time that SLAC's linear particle accelerator was constructed, because their synchrotron losses were considered economically prohibitive and because their beam intensity was lower than for the unpulsed linear machines. The Cornell Electron Synchrotron, built at low cost in the late 1970s, was the first in a series of high-energy circular electron accelerators built for fundamental particle physics, the last being LEP, built at CERN, which was used from 1989 until 2000.

A large number of electron synchrotrons have been built in the past two decades, as part of synchrotron light sources that emit ultraviolet light and X rays; see below.

Storage rings

For some applications, it is useful to store beams of high energy particles for some time (with modern high vacuum technology, up to many hours) without further acceleration. This is especially true for colliding beam accelerators, in which two beams moving in opposite directions are made to collide with each other, with a large gain in effective collision energy. Because relatively few collisions occur at each pass through the intersection point of the two beams, it is customary to first accelerate the beams to the desired energy, and then store them in storage rings, which are essentially synchrotron rings of magnets, with no significant RF power for acceleration.

Synchrotron radiation sources

Some circular accelerators have been built to deliberately generate radiation (called synchrotron light) as X-rays also called synchrotron radiation, for example the Diamond Light Source which has been built at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in England or the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, USA. High-energy X-rays are useful for X-ray spectroscopy of proteins or X-ray absorption fine structure (XAFS), for example.

Synchrotron radiation is more powerfully emitted by lighter particles, so these accelerators are invariably electron accelerators. Synchrotron radiation allows for better imaging as researched and developed at SLAC's SPEAR.

Fixed-Field Alternating Gradient Accelerators

Fixed-Field Alternating Gradient accelerators (FFA)s, in which a magnetic field which is fixed in time, but with a radial variation to achieve strong focusing, allows the beam to be accelerated with a high repetition rate but in a much smaller radial spread than in the cyclotron case. Isochronous FFAs, like isochronous cyclotrons, achieve continuous beam operation, but without the need for a huge dipole bending magnet covering the entire radius of the orbits. Some new developments in FFAs are covered in [23].


Ernest Lawrence's first cyclotron was a mere 4 inches (100 mm) in diameter. Later, in 1939, he built a machine with a 60-inch diameter pole face, and planned one with a 184-inch diameter in 1942, which was, however, taken over for World War II-related work connected with uranium isotope separation; after the war it continued in service for research and medicine over many years.

The first large proton synchrotron was the Cosmotron at Brookhaven National Laboratory, which accelerated protons to about 3 GeV (1953–1968). The Bevatron at Berkeley, completed in 1954, was specifically designed to accelerate protons to sufficient energy to create antiprotons, and verify the particle-antiparticle symmetry of nature, then only theorized. The Alternating Gradient Synchrotron (AGS) at Brookhaven (1960–) was the first large synchrotron with alternating gradient, "strong focusing" magnets, which greatly reduced the required aperture of the beam, and correspondingly the size and cost of the bending magnets. The Proton Synchrotron, built at CERN (1959–), was the first major European particle accelerator and generally similar to the AGS.

The Stanford Linear Accelerator, SLAC, became operational in 1966, accelerating electrons to 30 GeV in a 3 km long waveguide, buried in a tunnel and powered by hundreds of large klystrons. It is still the largest linear accelerator in existence, and has been upgraded with the addition of storage rings and an electron-positron collider facility. It is also an X-ray and UV synchrotron photon source.

The Fermilab Tevatron has a ring with a beam path of 4 miles (6.4 km). It has received several upgrades, and has functioned as a proton-antiproton collider until it was shut down due to budget cuts on September 30, 2011. The largest circular accelerator ever built was the LEP synchrotron at CERN with a circumference 26.6 kilometers, which was an electron/positron collider. It achieved an energy of 209 GeV before it was dismantled in 2000 so that the underground tunnel could be used for the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is a proton collider, and currently the world's largest and highest-energy accelerator, achieving 6.5 TeV energy per beam (13 TeV in total).

The aborted Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in Texas would have had a circumference of 87 km. Construction was started in 1991, but abandoned in 1993. Very large circular accelerators are invariably built in underground tunnels a few metres wide to minimize the disruption and cost of building such a structure on the surface, and to provide shielding against intense secondary radiations that occur, which are extremely penetrating at high energies.

Current accelerators such as the Spallation Neutron Source, incorporate superconducting cryomodules. The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, and Large Hadron Collider also make use of superconducting magnets and RF cavity resonators to accelerate particles.

Targets and detectors

The output of a particle accelerator can generally be directed towards multiple lines of experiments, one at a given time, by means of a deviating electromagnet. This makes it possible to operate multiple experiments without needing to move things around or shutting down the entire accelerator beam. Except for synchrotron radiation sources, the purpose of an accelerator is to generate high-energy particles for interaction with matter.

This is usually a fixed target, such as the phosphor coating on the back of the screen in the case of a television tube; a piece of uranium in an accelerator designed as a neutron source; or a tungsten target for an X-ray generator. In a linac, the target is simply fitted to the end of the accelerator. The particle track in a cyclotron is a spiral outwards from the centre of the circular machine, so the accelerated particles emerge from a fixed point as for a linear accelerator.

For synchrotrons, the situation is more complex. Particles are accelerated to the desired energy. Then, a fast acting dipole magnet is used to switch the particles out of the circular synchrotron tube and towards the target.

A variation commonly used for particle physics research is a collider, also called a storage ring collider. Two circular synchrotrons are built in close proximity – usually on top of each other and using the same magnets (which are then of more complicated design to accommodate both beam tubes). Bunches of particles travel in opposite directions around the two accelerators and collide at intersections between them. This can increase the energy enormously; whereas in a fixed-target experiment the energy available to produce new particles is proportional to the square root of the beam energy, in a collider the available energy is linear.

Higher energies

Particle Accelerator Livingston Chart 2010
A Livingston chart depicting progress in collision energy through 2010. The LHC is the largest collision energy to date, but also represents the first break in the log-linear trend.

At present the highest energy accelerators are all circular colliders, but both hadron accelerators and electron accelerators are running into limits. Higher energy hadron and ion cyclic accelerators will require accelerator tunnels of larger physical size due to the increased beam rigidity.

For cyclic electron accelerators, a limit on practical bend radius is placed by synchrotron radiation losses and the next generation will probably be linear accelerators 10 times the current length. An example of such a next generation electron accelerator is the proposed 40 km long International Linear Collider.

It is believed that plasma wakefield acceleration in the form of electron-beam 'afterburners' and standalone laser pulsers might be able to provide dramatic increases in efficiency over RF accelerators within two to three decades. In plasma wakefield accelerators, the beam cavity is filled with a plasma (rather than vacuum). A short pulse of electrons or laser light either constitutes or immediately precedes the particles that are being accelerated. The pulse disrupts the plasma, causing the charged particles in the plasma to integrate into and move toward the rear of the bunch of particles that are being accelerated. This process transfers energy to the particle bunch, accelerating it further, and continues as long as the pulse is coherent.[24]

Energy gradients as steep as 200 GeV/m have been achieved over millimeter-scale distances using laser pulsers[25] and gradients approaching 1 GeV/m are being produced on the multi-centimeter-scale with electron-beam systems, in contrast to a limit of about 0.1 GeV/m for radio-frequency acceleration alone. Existing electron accelerators such as SLAC could use electron-beam afterburners to greatly increase the energy of their particle beams, at the cost of beam intensity. Electron systems in general can provide tightly collimated, reliable beams; laser systems may offer more power and compactness. Thus, plasma wakefield accelerators could be used – if technical issues can be resolved – to both increase the maximum energy of the largest accelerators and to bring high energies into university laboratories and medical centres.

Higher than 0.25 GeV/m gradients have been achieved by a dielectric laser accelerator[26], which may present another viable approach to building compact high-energy accelerators[27]. Using femtosecond duration laser pulses, an electron accelerating gradient 0.69 Gev/m was recorded for dielectric laser accelerators[28]. Higher gradients of the order of 1 to 6 GeV/m are anticipated after further optimizations[29].

Black hole production and public safety concerns

In the future, the possibility of a black hole production at the highest energy accelerators may arise if certain predictions of superstring theory are accurate.[30][31] This and other possibilities have led to public safety concerns that have been widely reported in connection with the LHC, which began operation in 2008. The various possible dangerous scenarios have been assessed as presenting "no conceivable danger" in the latest risk assessment produced by the LHC Safety Assessment Group.[32] If black holes are produced, it is theoretically predicted that such small black holes should evaporate extremely quickly via Bekenstein-Hawking radiation, but which is as yet experimentally unconfirmed. If colliders can produce black holes, cosmic rays (and particularly ultra-high-energy cosmic rays, UHECRs) must have been producing them for eons, but they have yet to harm anybody.[33] It has been argued that to conserve energy and momentum, any black holes created in a collision between an UHECR and local matter would necessarily be produced moving at relativistic speed with respect to the Earth, and should escape into space, as their accretion and growth rate should be very slow, while black holes produced in colliders (with components of equal mass) would have some chance of having a velocity less than Earth escape velocity, 11.2 km per sec, and would be liable to capture and subsequent growth. Yet even on such scenarios the collisions of UHECRs with white dwarfs and neutron stars would lead to their rapid destruction, but these bodies are observed to be common astronomical objects. Thus if stable micro black holes should be produced, they must grow far too slowly to cause any noticeable macroscopic effects within the natural lifetime of the solar system.[32]

Accelerator operator

An accelerator operator controls the operation of a particle accelerator used in research experiments, reviews an experiment schedule to determine experiment parameters specified by an experimenter (physicist), adjust particle beam parameters such as aspect ratio, current intensity, and position on target, communicates with and assists accelerator maintenance personnel to ensure readiness of support systems, such as vacuum, magnet power supplies and controls, low conductivity water (LCW) cooling, and radiofrequency power supplies and controls. Additionally, the accelerator operator maintains a record of accelerator related events.

See also


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  2. ^ Witman, Sarah. "Ten things you might not know about particle accelerators". Symmetry Magazine. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Retrieved 21 April 2014.
  3. ^ Humphries, Stanley (1986). Principles of Charged Particle Acceleration. Wiley-Interscience. p. 4. ISBN 978-0471878780.
  4. ^ Pedro Waloschek (ed.): The Infancy of Particle Accelerators: Life and Work of Rolf Wideröe, Vieweg, 1994
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  6. ^ Higgins, A. G. (December 18, 2009). "Atom Smasher Preparing 2010 New Science Restart". U.S. News & World Report.
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Accelerator physics

Accelerator physics is a branch of applied physics, concerned with designing, building and operating particle accelerators. As such, it can be described as the study of motion, manipulation and observation of relativistic charged particle beams and their interaction with accelerator structures by electromagnetic fields.

It is also related to other fields:

Microwave engineering (for acceleration/deflection structures in the radio frequency range).

Optics with an emphasis on geometrical optics (beam focusing and bending) and laser physics (laser-particle interaction).

Computer technology with an emphasis on digital signal processing; e.g., for automated manipulation of the particle beam.The experiments conducted with particle accelerators are not regarded as part of accelerator physics, but belong (according to the objectives of the experiments) to, e.g., particle physics, nuclear physics, condensed matter physics or materials physics. The types of experiments done at a particular accelerator facility are determined by characteristics of the generated particle beam such as average energy, particle type, intensity, and dimensions.

Anatoli Bugorski

Anatoli Petrovich Bugorski (Russian: Анатолий Петрович Бугорский, romanized: Anatoliy Petrovich Bugorskiy), born 25 June 1942, is a Russian scientist who was struck by a particle accelerator beam in 1978.


A collider is a type of particle accelerator involving directed beams of particles. Colliders may either be ring accelerators or linear accelerators, and may collide a single beam of particles against a stationary target or two beams head-on.

Colliders are used as a research tool in particle physics by accelerating particles to very high kinetic energy and letting them impact other particles. Analysis of the byproducts of these collisions gives scientists good evidence of the structure of the subatomic world and the laws of nature governing it. These may become apparent only at high energies and for tiny periods of time, and therefore may be hard or impossible to study in other ways.


A cyclotron is a type of particle accelerator invented by Ernest O. Lawrence in 1929-1930 at the University of California, Berkeley, and patented in 1932. A cyclotron accelerates charged particles outwards from the center along a spiral path. The particles are held to a spiral trajectory by a static magnetic field and accelerated by a rapidly varying (radio frequency) electric field. Lawrence was awarded the 1939 Nobel prize in physics for this invention.Cyclotrons were the most powerful particle accelerator technology until the 1950s when they were superseded by the synchrotron, and are still used to produce particle beams in physics and nuclear medicine. The largest single-magnet cyclotron was the 4.67 m (184 in) synchrocyclotron built between 1940 and 1946 by Lawrence at the University of California, Berkeley, which could accelerate protons to 730 million electron volts (MeV). The largest cyclotron is the 17.1 m (56 ft) multimagnet TRIUMF accelerator at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia which can produce 500 MeV protons.

Over 1200 cyclotrons are used in nuclear medicine worldwide for the production of radionuclides.

Donald William Kerst

Donald William Kerst (November 1, 1911 – August 19, 1993) was an American physicist who worked on advanced particle accelerator concepts (accelerator physics) and plasma physics. He is most notable for his development of the betatron, a novel type of particle accelerator used to accelerate electrons.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Kerst developed the first betatron at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, where it became operational on July 15, 1940. During World War II, Kerst took a leave of absence in 1940 and 1941 to work on it with the engineering staff at General Electric, and he designed a portable betatron for inspecting dud bombs. In 1943 he joined the Manhattan Project's Los Alamos Laboratory, where he was responsible for designing and building the Water Boiler, a nuclear reactor intended to serve as a laboratory instrument.

From 1953 to 1957 Kerst was technical director of the Midwestern Universities Research Association, where he worked on advanced particle accelerator concepts, most notably the FFAG accelerator. He was then employed at General Atomics's John Jay Hopkins Laboratory from 1957 to 1962, where he worked on the problem of plasma physics. With Tihiro Ohkawa he invented toroidal devices for containing the plasma with magnetic fields. Their devices were the first to contain plasma without the instabilities that had plagued previous designs, and the first to contain plasma for lifetimes exceeding the Bohm diffusion limit.

Electron-cloud effect

The electron-cloud effect is a phenomenon that occurs in particle accelerators and reduces the quality of the particle beam.


Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), located just outside Batavia, Illinois, near Chicago, is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics. Since 2007, Fermilab has been operated by the Fermi Research Alliance, a joint venture of the University of Chicago, and the Universities Research Association (URA). Fermilab is a part of the Illinois Technology and Research Corridor.

Fermilab's Tevatron was a landmark particle accelerator; until the startup in 2008 of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland, it was the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, accelerating antiprotons to energies of 500 GeV, and producing proton-proton collisions with energies of up to 1.6 TeV, the first accelerator to reach one "tera-electron-volt" energy. At 3.9 miles (6.3 km), it was the world's fourth-largest particle accelerator in circumference. One of its most important achievements was the 1995 discovery of the top quark, announced by research teams using the Tevatron's CDF and DØ detectors. It was shut down in 2011.

In addition to high-energy collider physics, Fermilab hosts fixed-target and neutrino experiments, such as MicroBooNE (Micro Booster Neutrino Experiment), NOνA (NuMI Off-Axis νe Appearance) and SeaQuest. Completed neutrino experiments include MINOS (Main Injector Neutrino Oscillation Search), MINOS+, MiniBooNE and SciBooNE (SciBar Booster Neutrino Experiment). The MiniBooNE detector was a 40-foot (12 m) diameter sphere containing 800 tons of mineral oil lined with 1,520 phototube detectors. An estimated 1 million neutrino events were recorded each year. SciBooNE sat in the same neutrino beam as MiniBooNE but had fine-grained tracking capabilities. The NOνA experiment uses, and the MINOS experiment used, Fermilab's NuMI (Neutrinos at the Main Injector) beam, which is an intense beam of neutrinos that travels 455 miles (732 km) through the Earth to the Soudan Mine in Minnesota and the Ash River, Minnesota, site of the NOνA far detector.

In the public realm, Fermilab is home to a native prairie ecosystem restoration project and hosts many cultural events: public science lectures and symposia, classical and contemporary music concerts, folk dancing and arts galleries. The site is open from dawn to dusk to visitors who present valid photo identification.

Asteroid 11998 Fermilab is named in honor of the laboratory.

HERA (particle accelerator)

HERA (German: Hadron-Elektron-Ringanlage, English: Hadron-Electron Ring Accelerator) was a particle accelerator at DESY in Hamburg. It began operating in 1992. At HERA, electrons or positrons were collided with protons at a center of mass energy of 318 GeV. It was the only lepton-proton collider in the world while operating. Also, it was on the energy frontier in certain regions of the kinematic range. HERA was closed down on 30 June 2007.The HERA tunnel is located under the DESY site and the nearby Volkspark around 15 to 30 m underground and has a circumference of 6.3 km. Leptons and protons were stored in two independent storage rings on top of each other inside this tunnel.

There are four interaction regions, which were used by the experiments H1, ZEUS, HERMES and HERA-B. All these experiments were particle detectors.

Leptons (electrons or positrons) were pre-accelerated to 450 MeV in the linear accelerator LINAC-II. From there they were injected into the storage ring DESY-II and accelerated further to 7.5 GeV before their transfer into PETRA, where they were accelerated to 14 GeV. Finally they were injected into their storage ring in the HERA tunnel and reached a final energy of 27.5 GeV. This storage ring was equipped with warm (non-superconducting) magnets keeping the leptons on their circular track by a magnetic field of 0.17 Tesla.

Protons were obtained from originally negatively charged hydrogen ions and pre-accelerated to 50 MeV in a linear accelerator. They were then injected into the proton synchrotron DESY-III and accelerated further to 7 GeV. Then they were transferred to PETRA where they were accelerated to 40 GeV. Finally, they were injected into their storage ring in the HERA tunnel and reached their final energy of 920 GeV. The proton storage ring used superconducting magnets to keep the protons on track.

The lepton beam in HERA became naturally transversely polarised through the Sokolov-Ternov effect. The characteristic build-up time expected for the HERA accelerator was approximately 40 minutes. Spin rotators on either side of the experiments changed the transverse polarisation of the beam into longitudinal polarisation. The positron beam polarisation was measured using two independent polarimeters, the transverse polarimeter (TPOL) and the longitudinal polarimeter (LPOL). Both devices exploit the spin-dependent cross section for Compton scattering of circularly polarised photons off positrons to measure the beam polarisation. The transverse polarimeter was upgraded in 2001 to provide a fast measurement for every positron bunch, and position-sensitive silicon strip and scintillating-fibre detectors were added to investigate systematic effects.

On 30 June 2007 at 11:23 pm, HERA was shut down, and dismantling of the four experiments started. HERA's main pre-accelerator PETRA was converted into a synchrotron radiation source, operating under the name PETRA-III since August 2010.

International Linear Collider

The International Linear Collider (ILC) is a proposed linear particle accelerator. It is planned to have a collision energy of 500 GeV initially, with the possibility for a later upgrade to 1000 GeV (1 TeV). Although early proposed locations for the ILC were Japan, Europe (CERN) and the USA (Fermilab), the Kitakami highland, in the Iwate prefecture of northern Japan, has been the focus of ILC design efforts since 2013. The Japanese government is willing to contribute half of the costs, according to the coordinator of study for detectors at the ILC.The ILC would collide electrons with positrons. It will be between 30 km and 50 km (19–31 mi) long, more than 10 times as long as the 50 GeV Stanford Linear Accelerator, the longest existing linear particle accelerator. The proposal is based on previous similar proposals from Europe, the U.S., and Japan.

Studies for an alternative project, the Compact Linear Collider (CLIC) are also underway, which would operate at higher energies (up to 3 TeV) in a machine of length similar to the ILC. These two projects, CLIC and the ILC, have been unified under the Linear Collider Collaboration.

Intersecting Storage Rings

The ISR (standing for "Intersecting Storage Rings") was a particle accelerator at CERN. It was the world's first hadron collider, and ran from 1971 to 1984, with a maximum center of mass energy of 62 GeV. From its initial startup, the collider itself had the capability to produce particles like the J/ψ and the upsilon, as well as observable jet structure; however, the particle detector experiments were not configured to observe events with large momentum transverse to the beamline, leaving these discoveries to be made at other experiments in the mid-1970s. Nevertheless, the construction of the ISR involved many advances in accelerator physics, including the first use of stochastic cooling, and it held the record for luminosity at a hadron collider until surpassed by the Tevatron in 2004.

Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest and most powerful particle collider and the largest machine in the world. It was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) between 1998 and 2008 in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and hundreds of universities and laboratories, as well as more than 100 countries. It lies in a tunnel 27 kilometres (17 mi) in circumference and as deep as 175 metres (574 ft) beneath the France–Switzerland border near Geneva.

First collisions were achieved in 2010 at an energy of 3.5 teraelectronvolts (TeV) per beam, about four times the previous world record. After upgrades it reached 6.5 TeV per beam (13 TeV total collision energy, the present world record). At the end of 2018, it entered a two-year shutdown period for further upgrades.

The collider has four crossing points, around which are positioned seven detectors, each designed for certain kinds of research. The LHC primarily collides proton beams, but it can also use beams of heavy ions: Lead–lead collisions and proton-lead collisions are typically done for one month per year. The aim of the LHC's detectors is to allow physicists to test the predictions of different theories of particle physics, including measuring the properties of the Higgs boson and searching for the large family of new particles predicted by supersymmetric theories, as well as other unsolved questions of physics.

Linear particle accelerator

A linear particle accelerator (often shortened to linac) is a type of particle accelerator that accelerates charged subatomic particles or ions to a high speed by subjecting them to a series of oscillating electric potentials along a linear beamline. The principles for such machines were proposed by Gustav Ising in 1924, while the first machine that worked was constructed by Rolf Widerøe in 1928 at the RWTH Aachen University.

Linacs have many applications: they generate X-rays and high energy electrons for medicinal purposes in radiation therapy, serve as particle injectors for higher-energy accelerators, and are used directly to achieve the highest kinetic energy for light particles (electrons and positrons) for particle physics.

The design of a linac depends on the type of particle that is being accelerated: electrons, protons or ions. Linacs range in size from a cathode ray tube (which is a type of linac) to the 3.2-kilometre-long (2.0 mi) linac at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, California.

Low Energy Ion Ring

The Low Energy Ion Ring (LEIR) is a particle accelerator at CERN used to accelerate ions from the LINAC 3 to the Proton Synchrotron (PS) to provide ions for collisions within the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

Particle-beam weapon

A particle-beam weapon uses a high-energy beam of atomic or subatomic particles to damage the target by disrupting its atomic and/or molecular structure. A particle-beam weapon is a type of directed-energy weapon, which directs energy in a particular and focused direction using particles with minuscule mass. Some particle-beam weapons have potential practical applications, e.g. as an antiballistic missile defense system for the United States and its cancelled Strategic Defense Initiative. The vast majority, however, are science fiction and are among the most common weapon types of the genre. They have been known by myriad names: phasers, particle accelerator guns, ion cannons, proton beams, lightning rays, rayguns, etc.

The concept of particle-beam weapons comes from sound scientific principles and experiments currently underway around the world. One effective process to cause damage to or destroy a target is to simply overheat it until it is no longer operational. However, after decades of R&D, particle-beam weapons are still very much at the research stage and it remains to be seen if or when they will be deployed as practical, high-performance military weapons.

Particle accelerators are a well-developed technology used in scientific research for decades. They use electromagnetic fields to accelerate and direct charged particles along a predetermined path, and electrostatic "lenses" to focus these streams for collisions. The cathode ray tube in many twentieth-century televisions and computer monitors is a very simple type of particle accelerator. More powerful versions include synchrotrons and cyclotrons used in nuclear research. A particle-beam weapon is a weaponized version of this technology. It accelerates charged particles (in most cases electrons, positrons, protons, or ionized atoms, but very advanced versions can accelerate other particles such as mercury nuclei) to near-light speed and then shoots them at a target. These particles have tremendous kinetic energy which they impart to matter in the target, inducing near-instantaneous and catastrophic superheating at the surface, and when penetrating deeper, ionization effects which can be especially detrimental to electronics in the target.

Super Proton Synchrotron

The Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) is a particle accelerator of the synchrotron type at CERN. It is housed in a circular tunnel, 6.9 kilometres (4.3 mi) in circumference, straddling the border of France and Switzerland near Geneva, Switzerland.


A synchrotron is a particular type of cyclic particle accelerator, descended from the cyclotron, in which the accelerating particle beam travels around a fixed closed-loop path. The magnetic field which bends the particle beam into its closed path increases with time during the accelerating process, being synchronized to the increasing kinetic energy of the particles (see image). The synchrotron is one of the first accelerator concepts to enable the construction of large-scale facilities, since bending, beam focusing and acceleration can be separated into different components. The most powerful modern particle accelerators use versions of the synchrotron design. The largest synchrotron-type accelerator, also the largest particle accelerator in the world, is the 27-kilometre-circumference (17 mi) Large Hadron Collider (LHC) near Geneva, Switzerland, built in 2008 by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). It can accelerate beams of protons to an energy of 6.5 teraelectronvolts (TeV).

The synchrotron principle was invented by Vladimir Veksler in 1944. Edwin McMillan constructed the first electron synchrotron in 1945, arriving at the idea independently, having missed Veksler's publication (which was only available in a Soviet journal, although in English). The first proton synchrotron was designed by Sir Marcus Oliphant and built in 1952.

Things You Can't Outrun

"Things You Can't Outrun" is the third episode of the CW series The Flash. The episode was written by Alison Schapker and Grainne Godfree and directed by Jesse Warn. It was first broadcast on October 21, 2014 in The CW. The show is itself an spin-off of the show Arrow, where many characters in the series were introduced during the second season. The episode revolves about Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), a CSI forensic scientist working for the Central City Police Department. The S.T.A.R. Labs team is currently investigating the rampage of a man who seems to control gases and smokes to kill the people who sentenced him to jail. Meanwhile, Wells and Cisco consider using the particle accelerator as a jail for the metahumans, reminding Caitlin when her fiancée died trying to stop the explosion of the particle accelerator. Meanwhile, Iris and Eddie consider telling Joe about their relationship.

The episode received positive reviews, with critics stating that the series has found a balance after three episodes.


VEPP-2000 (Russian: ВЭПП-2000) is an upgrade of the former VEPP-2M electron-positron collider (particle accelerator) at Budker Institute of Nuclear Physics (BINP) in Novosibirsk, Siberia, Russia.

Xie Jialin

Xie Jialin (simplified Chinese: 谢家麟; traditional Chinese: 謝家麟; 8 August 1920 – 20 February 2016) was a Chinese physicist.

Born in Harbin, he attended Christian Yenching University where he studied physics. Upon graduation in 1943, Xie enrolled at Stanford University, where he earned a Ph.D in 1951. While working for the University of Chicago Medical Center in 1955, he developed a particle accelerator used to treat cancerous tumors. Later that year, Xie returned to China and helped build the country's first particle accelerator. He received the State Preeminent Science and Technology Award for his work in 2011.Xie died on 20 February 2016 at the age of 96 in Beijing.The inner main-belt asteroid 32928 Xiejialin, discovered by SCAP at the Xinglong Station in 1995, is named in his honor. Naming citation was published on 5 January 2015 (M.P.C. 91791).

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