The University of Manchester, UK, is leading a project to build a more compact particle accelerator

Plans for a prototype of an unusually simple, small particle accelerator have been unveiled by the University of Manchester.  

The accelerator will deliver a continuous beam of high energy particles, says the leader of the ?8.3 million project, Roger Barlow. ’This is more compact than the synchrotron, and much cheaper and simpler to operate. Once we have demonstrated that the principle works with a prototype, these could be built and run in many more institutes,’ he told Chemistry World.

The unique feature that makes the machine so much simpler is that the magnets producing the magnetic field that accelerates the particles run with a continuous current. 

’Synchotrons use an alternating current to steer the particles,’ said Barlow. ’Although this idea is simpler, it has never been attempted before because there is doubt about what will happen to the beam if the magnets aren’t perfectly matched.’


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Electron machine with many applications (Emma)

But Barlow’s team have proven the theoretical basis of their machine and are pressing ahead with the project, which is split into three areas. The first will design and build the prototype, Emma (Electron machine with many applications), which will be just 10 metres across. A further two areas will design a machine for medical applications and look into other possible applications including archaeology and zoology.

Barlow is keen to emphasize the wide potential uses for his machine beyond particle physics, such as the use of particle beams to deliver radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer. ’This type of accelerator could also be at the heart of a new generation of very intense sources of neutrons for studying the structure of materials and the dynamics of chemical reactions, of interest to physicists, chemists, biologists, engineers and many industries,’ he said. 

The team hope to complete their prototype, Emma, before the end of 2010. 

Victoria Gill 

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