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Berkeley Lab Builds World Record Tabletop-Size Particle Accelerator 90

Zothecula writes Taking careful aim with a quadrillion watt laser, researchers at the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab claim to have managed to speed up subatomic particles to the highest energies ever recorded for a compact accelerator. By blasting plasma in their tabletop-size laser-plasma accelerator, the scientists assert that they have produced acceleration energy of around of 4.25 giga-electron volts. Acceleration of this magnitude over the short distances involved correlates to an energy rise 1,000 times greater than that of a traditional – and very much larger – particle accelerator.
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Berkeley Lab Builds World Record Tabletop-Size Particle Accelerator

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  • The good a smaller more affordable technology will allow greater numbers of people to do such research.
    The bad news, it may be hard to get grants for large projects like the LHC where a full science based economy is built around a device.

    • The bad news, it may be hard to get grants for large projects like the LHC where a full science based economy is built around a device.

      Perhaps we should be basing it around the design and production of smaller, less resource-intensive devices instead anyway, when such a thing is possible.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        There are many good applications for a device generating energies in the 4Gev range, but for things like finding Higgs, it's not even close. Some things just have to have full power. Many other things surrounding it are there because they can benefit from the essentially free excess of particles.

    • by TWX ( 665546 )
      On the other hand, as more and more capabilities are added on to this prototype, and subsequent production equipment, the new science that they'll be able to do will grow in scope and cost as well.

      What we're seeing here is a potential paradigm shift. Saying that there'll be no budget for expensive projects compared to this one is like saying now that the GM EV1 two-seater is out, there'll be no interest in V8-powered luxury cars. In reality, we're seeing paradigm shifts in that market where companies a
    • A full science based economy ? Built around a device ?

      If that is the aim just build big cathedrals pop in a saint's reliquary and call it a day.

      • Well we have issues with funding science.
        1. If the science isn't directly affecting a marketable product, it is hard to get funding from corporations.
        2. Universities need to make their money by teaching bratty undergrads, and most of the research has to teach them.
        3. Governments only like to give money if there is something in it that will get them elected.
        The LHC is big enough to positively affect a local economy, and the research is popular enough to get "I AM PRO-SCIENCE" creds.

        The sad thing is that to d

        • We could just make it easier to get the research and experimentation tax credit.

          Just to put things on the table, I am pro science but I am anti lazy science. The LHC is by any standard lazy science, in that the thought progress for 60 years leading up to it, was build it BIGGER BIGGER BIGGER. It was pretty clear as far back as the SSC proposals there were other routes to go, ring type accelerators just have been a conceptually lazy approach. Also they tended to funny money and prestige into the mini indust

    • Indeed low cost means more affordable devices for more labs, and new technology means possible expansion to bigger (then more exensive) such devices, allowing to explore new frontiers in physics.

    • by omems ( 1869410 )
      To be fair, the LHC is working with much higher energies. Wiki:
      "... two opposing particle beams of either protons at up to 4 teraelectronvolts (4 TeV or 0.64 microjoules), or lead nuclei at an energy of 574 TeV (92.0 J) per nucleus (2.76 TeV per nucleon),[4][5] with energies to be roughly doubled to around 7 TeV (14 TeV collision energy) —more than seven times any predecessor collider—by around 2015."
  • Didn't Iron Man use one of these to make starktonium a few years ago?
  • Next step: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheDarkMaster ( 1292526 ) on Tuesday December 09, 2014 @10:42AM (#48555097)
    Ghostbusters proton weapon
    • Seriously though, how far can this scale up? What if just plug one of these into the LHC?

      • Neglecting the fact that this accelerates electrons, while the LHC works with protons...
        And assuming the energy adds linearly...
        The resultant particle beam would be all of 0.0607% more powerful.

        There's a reason the LHC is huge, it's accelerating protons to about 7TeV, or 0.999999991c, just 3m/s slower than light speed. That's not to say that these little linear accelerators don't have their use, there's no doubt lots of low-energy physics experiments that can be performed with electrons at a paltry 4.25GeV

    • by TWX ( 665546 )
      The device is small, but the power source is the size of a building.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Don't cross the beams! Or think about marshmallows.

    • Ghostbusters proton weapon

      Well, I guess so.

      At least we already know what happens when you cross the streams.

  • Here at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab this technology enables us to conduct a wide range of advanced research in a timely fashion. this tabletop-size device will also replace the crappier microwave in the breakroom with the broken turntable. So get with keith or lisa if you need help figuring out how to heat up a burrito and as fish.
  • Is it me or is a quadrillion watt laser just something that I can not really grasp? That sounds like a whole bunch of energy applied over a very short period of time. It is sort of like trying to imagine how many grains of sand exist in the world. After the first billion or so the numbers don't mean much to me.
    • by fnj ( 64210 )

      It would be much more instructive to learn the laser's energy delivery in Joules than its power in PW for some unspecified but infinitesimal duration.

      • Not really, both numbers are incredibly important: and they provided both. It only takes an instant to do it's job, and in that instant the power levels are highly important if you want to understand the physics. And they do tell you the energy delivered on a per-electron basis - the most important number, joules are just far to large to be relevant to particle physics: 4.25GeV = 6.8092504 × 10^-10 joules

        Even the LHC doesn't get into the joule range: 7TeV = 1.1215236 × 10^-6 joules

      • by stjobe ( 78285 )

        42.2 Joules, actually.

        But since that energy was delivered in 40 femtoseconds, they multiplied the two values and said it is a petawatt laser.

        Funny what a wikipedia search [] might teach you :)

    • Is it me or is a quadrillion watt laser just something that I can not really grasp?

      No, it's not just you.

      Most human brains really can't figure out WTF this means. Even the people who work in this stuff occasionally remember what they're saying and think "damn".

      My first thought was "is quadrillion a real number?", followed by thinking ... million, billion, trillion, quadrillion.

      Million = 1,000,000
      Billion = 1,000,000,000
      Trillion = 1,000,000,000,000
      Quadrillion = 1,000,000,000,000,000

      And, yes, at that point it

      • quadrillion = 1E15.

        That makes it easier.

        • You know, it's easier to say, and it's shorter to write.

          But when I'm trying to wrap my head around what it's actually saying ... I prefer to see the huge list of zeroes.

          And then my brain sort of wobbles around and does the Keanu Reeves "woah".

          Some of these numbers are just so intractable to the human brain you need a visual reference.

      • You know, as acclimated as I am to American-style large numbers, I can't help thinking the British may be on to something with their definition of billion = bi-million = 1,000,000 x 1,000,000, or what we would call a trillion.

        By that logic I would extrapolate that in Britain the terms would mean
        Billion = 1,000,000^2 = 1,000,000,000,000
        Trillion = 1,000,000^3 = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000
        Quadrillion = 1,000,000^4 = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

        Doesn't line up with SI units as nicely, but is much better

        • It lines up perfectly:
          Million = 1,000,000 = Mega
          Milliard = 1,000,000,000 = Giga
          Billion = 1,000,000,000,000 = Tera
          Billiard = 1,000,000,000,000,000 = Peta
          Trillion = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 = Exa
          Trilliard = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 = Zetta
          Quadrillion = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 = Yotta
          Quadrilliard = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

  • electrons (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Lawrence_Bird ( 67278 ) on Tuesday December 09, 2014 @10:51AM (#48555177) Homepage

    there has been much research in reducing the size of accelerators since ... forever. These guys are probably only reallly useful for e+/- collisions so it is highly stupid to compare it the LHC or even Tevatron - the appropriate comparison is something like SLC at SLAC. Where these will really find most use (if they can make the laser side practical) is in medicine.

    • Electron-positron collisions are much cleaner than proton-proton ones. The LEP did exclude the Higgs up to 115 GeV while it actually was around 125, so scaling this up by a factor of 40 or so would make a small Higgs factory. Dunno about luminosity but maybe that's not a problem.
      • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

        Luminosity is a problem. The amount of data you get about a particular energy (like 125 GeV) is a function of both the collision energy and the rate of those collisions.

        • by Mr.CRC ( 2330444 )

          Yes, there is more to an accelerator than energy. There's luminosity, beam current, and oodles of other parameters about bunching, etc. all of which affect the data rate and signal to noise ratio when conducting frontier science experiments such as what the LHC does. So the LHC and giant accelerators won't be going away any time soon.

          But small accelerator tech. that can put modest energies at modest luminosities into the hands of researchers with $50-250k budgets and small lab spaces would be a great imp

  • Anyone know what the efficiencies are on these sorts of "tabletop" laser particle accelerators versus say a linac? I'm curious as to whether it'd make an effective "tabletop" spallation neutron source - protons in the range of a couple hundred MEv to a few GEv are ideal for that purpose. (yes, I know this one is an electron accelerator, but ultrashort laser pulses can also accelerate protons [], although I don't know if you can hit the same sorts of energies).

    • Anyone know what the efficiencies are on these sorts of "tabletop" laser particle accelerators versus say a linac? I'm curious as to whether it'd make an effective "tabletop" spallation neutron source

      I don't know about efficiency, but the problem with the tabletop synchrotrons (which accelerate electrons, but X-rays are the primary product) is that their X-ray flux is much lower than the football-field-sized rings, which means they're not as useful for molecular imaging applications. My guess would be that

    • Superconducting linacs can be quite efficient - 10s of %. Electric costs are not a major driver for most accelerators so typically they are not that good in order to save construction costs. You could probably design >50% wall plug -> beam efficiency accelerator if you wanted to.

      Laser accelerators are not that good at converting laser energy to beam energy. I don't know the numbers, but above ~10% would surprise me. Then the high drive lasers are very inefficient (these are not diode laesrs!). Both

  • Though, in this initial experiment, it was limited to pulses of a "mere" 0.3 PW or 300,000 gigawatts.

    Does this mean they can travel through time approximately 250,000 times faster than Doc Brown could? Or is the conversion from gigawatts to jiggawatts nonlinear?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The thing on the table top takes a laser pulse and uses the energy to accelerate particles to high speed.

    The laser is BELLA it takes a building

    Still, it's much better that a multi km ring.
        Both size and energy.

  • ... advertiser-supported [] app for this.

  • Tables come in all sorts of sizes, from card tables through ones used for a state banquet.

  • the "smallest miscalculation could lead to disaster". What sort of disaster are we talking about here? Will it tear a hole in the space time continuum and result in an ever expanding vacuum bubble that will engulf the known universe?

    • Well, just about anything could do that. Clapping my hands has an infinitesimally small chance of doing that.
      This has a slightly larger chance.

  • "There's no way we can repel firepower of that magnitude!"

Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will be dear to you. -- Thomas Jefferson