If particle accelerators aren’t that big, they could be useful for medicine,media New Atlas reported. The SLAC accelerator, for example, is nearly 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) long, while the European Nuclear Research Organization’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) can reach a staggering 16.7 miles (27 kilometers). Now, scientists at Stanford University have sought to narrow down technology to fit computer chips, which could lead to more accurate cancer radiation therapy.
In conventional accelerators, particles are ejected through a vacuum tube and accelerate to incredibly high speeds. The SLAC accelerator speeds up particles by irradiating them with microwaves, while the LHC uses superconducting magnets. The mechanical equipment required to do so makes these systems very cumbersome and difficult to scale down for use in hospitals and smaller scientific institutions. In the past, CERN managed to create a smaller prototype, about 6.5 feet (2 meters) long – and now teams from Stanford University and SLAC have created even smaller versions that can be installed on a single silicon chip.
With the new design, electrons can emit electron beams through a vacuum-sealed channel that is 30 microns long and thinner than a human hair. The Stanford device accelerates its particles with infrared light, which passes through a silicon-wire funnel that passes through the channel wall. Infrared lasers emit 100,000 pulses per second, each time sending out a beam of photons that hit electrons at right angles to speed them forward.
In its current form, the researchers say, the particle accelerators on the chip are not ready for actual use, but do show that the concept works. Currently, it can only provide 0.915keV of energy to electrons, which is 1/1000 of the energy needed for research or medical applications.
By the end of the year, the team expects it to be able to deliver 1MeV of energy, a thousand times more than in its current form. It’s very simple – the researchers repeated the same channel 1,000 times, which should be mounted on a chip that is only 1 inch (2.5 cm) long.
So what can particle accelerators actually be used for? The first application could be a more targeted cancer treatment, the researchers said. For example, one end of the vacuum tube can be directed directly to the tumor into the patient’s body. The electrons accelerated by the device can hit cancer cells directly through the tube funnel without hitting nearby healthy cells.
The study was published in the journal Science.