Portable particle accelerators may soon become reality

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Portable particle accelerators may soon become reality
The basics behind the portable particle accelerator concept

Modern particle accelerators are big, to put it mildly -- even the smallest ones tend to occupy large rooms. Researchers at the University of Maryland, however, have found a way to shrink them down to where they're genuinely portable. By shooting plasma with a laser pulse in such a way that they intensify the pulse and create a wake, the scientists can accelerate electrons to near the speed of light without using nearly as much energy as current machines (just millijoules for every blast). With this technology, you'd need so much less equipment and power that you could fit an accelerator on a cart.

You won't see a Large Hadron Collider on wheels any time soon because of the sheer energy requirements. However, it could have real-world benefits in the near future. You could see extremely quick medical imaging that comes to patients in their rooms, or speedy scientific imaging that's useful in the field. Either way, the days of gargantuan accelerators are hopefully coming to an end.

[Image credit: Howard Milchberg/George Hine]

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