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New technology to power pocket-sized particle accelerator

Aug. 9 (UPI) — New particle acceleration technology promises to shrink the amount of space required to study exotic particles.

“With this new accelerator method, we could drastically reduce the size and the cost of antimatter acceleration,” physicist Aakash Sahai said in a news release. “What is now only possible by using large physics facilities at tens of million-dollar costs could soon be possible in ordinary physics labs.”

The world’s most powerful particle accelerators are found in vast, underground facilities. They require more than a mile of space.

Scientists at Imperial College London have developed a method for accelerating positrons to extreme speeds in a space 1,000-times smaller than the world’s largest accelerators.

“The technologies used in facilities like the Large Hadron Collider or the Linac Coherent Light Source have not undergone significant advances since their invention in the 1950s,” Sahai said. “They are expensive to run, and it may be that we will soon have all we can get out of them.”

The method relies on a combination of lasers and plasma to generate, trap and accelerate positron beams to extreme speeds — all within a very small space. A positron is the antimatter counterpart of the electron. The technology could be powered with lasers that are already found in many physics labs.

Though the technology is still in the experimental phase, researchers are confident that a working prototype isn’t far off.

The miniature technology could even prove more efficient at producing Higgs boson particles — through the collision of electron and positron beams — than LHC.

Scientists described the technology in the journal Physical Review Accelerators and Beams.

“A new generation of compact, energetic and cheap accelerators of elusive particles would allow us to probe new physics — and allow many more labs worldwide to join the effort,” Sahai said.

In addition to studying exotic particles, the technology could be used to certify the structural integrity of space and aeronautics equipment. Positron beams interact with materials differently than x-rays and electron beams, providing material scientists another layer of quality control.

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