A particle accelerator small enough to sit on a table was used to create one of the most prolific events in science history. Scientists succeeded in speeding up, and accelerating subatomic particles to the absolute highest energies that have ever been recorded on a compact accelerator.
The process was complex, but the results were ground breaking achievement. Even more impressive was that it was the first-attempt of its kind.
In talking about the results, Dr. James Symons of the Berkley Lab where the experiment was conducted said “It is an extraordinary achievement for Dr. Leemans and his team to produce this record-breaking result in their first operational campaign with BELLA.”
This tabletop accelerator is different than traditional accelerators because of how much smaller it is than the Large Hardon Collider at CERN that spans 17 miles. Ultimately, what the petawatt laser does is charges particles until they reach peak – and eventually the plasma reacts. However, the force that’s exerted in the smaller space actually creates an energy gradient that’s 1000 times greater than the traditional accelerators.
This particular accelerator though, as it pertains to this experiment used a different method. First a pulse of laser light has to be injected into a small tube that is roughly the size of a straw. That straw-shaped tube has plasma, and the laser creates a channel in the plasma. The electrons are then accelerated to incredibly high energies as result of a small space.
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“This result requires exquisite control over the laser and the plasma,” said Dr. Wim Leemans, who is the director of Accelerator Technology at the Berkley Lab. He also was the lead on this particular study. BELLA is known globally for its precise behavior in these types of scenarios and is incredibly promising to scientists. The precision that this laser brings to the table delivers the type of results that scientists can do a lot more with moving forward.
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The team even went on to note that “with a lot of lasers, this never could have happened,” referring to the outcome of the experiment. The high-powered precision of BELLA will definitely revolutionize the way this type of science is evaluated and executed moving forward.