The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is famous for being central during the Manhattan Project that built the first nuclear bombs. It has maintained its focus on nuclear weapons and related technologies, and now it’s trying to apply its know-how toward helping to kill cancers. Specifically, the investigators at Oak Ridge want to make proton therapy a lot more affordable than it is now.
Proton therapy uses highly energized hydrogen ions to attack tumors. These are spun up inside particle accelerators to near speed-of-light velocities and then released toward a tumor. Because they only damage tissues just where they stop, they cause significantly less damage than X-rays that influence all tissues on the way to the target. But, while proton therapy should be considerably safer, the cost of such systems (about $100 million) is prohibitive for nearly all hospitals.
The Oak Ridge researchers are now working with a team from Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) laboratory in Germany toward using much cheaper lasers to accelerate ions to the necessary energies required for therapy. They’re running simulations on the powerful Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge that recreate how lasers strip off electrons from hydrogen atoms, leaving positive ions that can be made to accelerate toward a negative charge.
A snippet from an Oak Ridge story about the research:
Because of its various collaborations and diligent work on Titan, the team was able to create some of the most realistic three-dimensional simulations of high power laser interactions with targets that are on the scale of the laser focus. With the calculation power available, the team could use targets at densities close to what is used in experiments.
One of the main advances dealt with the creation of plasma caused by laser energy deposited into the target well before the main part of the laser pulse hits the target. This so-called preplasma can be much larger than the initial target, meaning the team has to simulate a much larger volume. These effects are present in experiments as well as in large-scale simulations, so the team is able to offer a much more detailed comparison between simulation and experiment.
Read on at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory…