Researchers from Stanford University have reported in Nature that they have used a laser to accelerate electrons in a glass chip smaller than a grain of rice, at a rate much higher than conventional technology. This development can greatly reduce the size of particle accelerators, including those used in medicine. The new “accelerator on a chip” can deliver a million more electron pulses per second than Stanford Linear Accelerator Center’s 2 mile long device. The system works by first accelerating electrons to near light-speed through conventional techniques, then running them through a glass prism in combination with laser light, which increases their energy further.
This technology could lead to tabletop accelerators that can be used in portable X-ray machine to provide high-resolution imaging of broken bones in a variety of environments. This seems feasible since the new accelerator technology uses commercial lasers and low-cost, mass-production techniques. Portable X-rays developed using this “accelerator on a chip” could also greatly reduce the cost of medical imaging in hospitals and other healthcare settings.
Here’s a video from the research group discussing how the new accelerator works:
Stanford announcement: Researchers Demonstrate ‘Accelerator on a Chip’…