We all know about the LHC, the Large Hadron Collider, located near Geneva in a giant tunnel at a depth of hundreds of meters. This is one of the largest engineering structures in the world, and its construction cost Europe $6 billion (or it could have been more, it’s just that some of the tunnels existed in this place before).
And recently, German scientists launched the smallest particle accelerator in history. The tiny technological triumph, smaller than a coin, gives new meaning to the tale of Lefty Shoeing a Flea.
The new machine is known as a Nanophotonic Electron Accelerator (NEA). It consists of a small microchip that houses an even smaller vacuum tube made up of thousands of individual “pillars.” Researchers can accelerate electrons by shining microscopic laser beams at these pillars.
The length of the main accelerating tube is approximately 0.5 millimeters, which is 54 million times shorter than the main ring of the LHC (~27 kilometers).
The Large Hadron Collider, due to its size (and, accordingly, power), was able to detect a number of new particles, including the Higgs boson (“God particle”), ghost neutrinos, “charming” meson and even mysterious particle X.
What then can be done with a collider, the size of which is ten times smaller than a 5-ruble coin?
The inside of the tiny tunnel here is only about 225 nanometers wide. By data National Institute of Nanotechnology, the average thickness of a human hair is between 80,000 and 100,000 nanometers. That is, the tunnel of the new hadron collider is 400 times thinner than a human hair.
Actually, that’s the point. It is expected that the new accelerator will be able to be used inside the human body. In various new medical procedures that require patient exposure to radiation. NEA will detect what exactly is happening inside the soft tissue, and what effect external radiation has. And if necessary, speed up and intensify it. For example, if cancer cells are developing in a certain small region, such an accelerator will be able to “burn out” it from the inside without affecting the rest of the body. This results in a more gentle version of radiation therapy.
Lead author of the study Tomas Chloba, a physicist at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, writes: “Our dream is to place such a particle accelerator on an endoscope to be able to deliver radiation therapy directly to the affected area of the body.” But this is still a long way off. However, this is only one of the obvious options proposed. In the future, there will probably be other ways to use this younger brother of the LHC.
In a new study published October 18 in the journal Nature, scientists from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) in Germany used a tiny invention to accelerate electrons from an energy of 28 keV to 40 keV, that is, by 43%.
In his statement The scientists wrote that this is the first time a nanophotonic electron accelerator, which was first theoretically proposed in 2015, has successfully launched. “This is the first time we can talk about a particle accelerator on a microchip.”
The LHC uses more than 9,000 ultra-powerful magnets to create a magnetic field, which allows it to accelerate particles to approximately 99.9% of the speed of light. The NEA also produces a magnetic field, but works by directing beams of light onto the pillars of a vacuum tube; this very neatly amplifies the energy without dissipating it, but the resulting energy field is much weaker.
Electrons accelerated by the NEA have only about one millionth the energy of particles accelerated by the Large Hadron Collider. However, the researchers believe they can improve the NEA design by using different materials or placing multiple tubes next to each other, which will allow particles to be accelerated more strongly. Although it is clear that they will never reach the same energy levels as in large colliders.