Scientists have achieved an impressive feat by creating the world’s smallest particle accelerator, a device slightly larger than a coin. This little wonder Detailed in an article in Nature magazineIt represents a technological demonstration that could pave the way for revolutionary medical devices.
Traditional particle accelerators, such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), span different countries and cost billions. These giants have been instrumental in revealing cosmic secrets, but accelerators also have more terrestrial uses, including cancer treatment.
In contrast, the latest addition to this technology has a modest footprint, a device that can fit comfortably next to a penny. It represents a shift from vast, sprawling facilities to something that could one day fit on a silicon chip.
Traditionally, electron accelerators use metal cavities to propel particles. However, these cavity-based systems are bulky and error-prone. The new chip-sized accelerator uses targeted laser shots, marking a departure from the old and toward a more precise and potentially cost-effective method.
Howard Milchberg, a physicist at the University of Maryland, expressed his admiration for this innovation. “I think this paper is really interesting and fascinating in physics, for sure,” he said.
Developing such a small accelerator presents enormous challenges. The process required the precise creation of hundreds of tiny columns of silicon, a task that had previously seemed insurmountable. “Making such small features with sufficient precision is very difficult,” admitted Thomas Kluba, one of the researchers behind the project.
Despite the current prototype’s modest production output—it conducts only about one electron per second—advancements in chip manufacturing have allowed the team to realize its design using methods common in semiconductor manufacturing.
A vision for the future
Although practical applications seem distant, the potential is enormous. “I don’t know how practical this could be,” Milchberg admitted, noting the significant improvements needed for real-world use. Cloba remains optimistic, envisioning medical applications such as electron accelerators being compact enough to be introduced laparoscopically to treat skin cancer.
“This is smaller, cheaper, and fits anywhere,” Schluba said, hinting at a future where more advanced medical treatments could become more accessible than ever before.
In the dynamical field of particle physics, this miniaturization represents an important step forward – ushering in an era in which what was once the domain of large facilities may soon be available in the palm of your hand.
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