Old Computer Parts Demonstrate How Particle Accelerators Work

[Ameres Valentin] writes in to let us know about his DIY particle accelerator model. The model, made mostly out of old computer stuff, mimics a linear high-energy particle accelerator which use drift tubes to toss particles around. Drift tubes work by first attracting a particle (in this case, ball bearing) until it crosses a charged plate (in this case, coil), then flipping the charge polarity and repelling the particle.  In this case the accelerators function more like a multiple coil gun, as they can’t exactly push the bearing away. Regardless of the specifics the model is an excellent visual aid.

As the bearing rolls along the rails of the CD spindle it shorts bits of foil tape placed just ahead of the magnets. This (appears) to flip a relay that switches on the magnet. Once the magnet coil is energized it pulls the bearing towards its center, accelerating it. The foil stops just before the point where the magnet would pull back the bearing. We are not sure if [Ameres] is using any trickery to get the magnets to individually power, as schematics are not available. The circuit should be simple enough to figure out with a couple relays. In the video [Ameres] adds a lamp to the coils to display when they are powered. Nice work! This could make a fun distraction desk accessory, better than those clicky Newton’s cradles.

Check out [Ameres]’ site for a video of the model in action.

12 thoughts on “Old Computer Parts Demonstrate How Particle Accelerators Work

  1. Actually, you can see two pieces of metal under the lamp. The ball simply makes a contact to switch on the light.

    To accelerate particles at low energy, you can permanently drive the magnets. Even synchrocyclotrons are synchronized to the particle (to compensate relativist gain of mass) but through AM and mainly FM modulation

  2. @strider_mt2k

    AM modulation was present on the Synchrocyclotron I worked on.

    The AM modulation was giving a boost to help starting acceleration. Then envelop was constant, then the envelop was slowly decreasing before beam extraction. So we’re both right. AM was not directly involved in synchronism but it was used…and useful

    All of this was on a SC200 Philips synchrocyclotron bought by Irene Joliot-Curie (Marie’s daughter) in 1955 and strongly modified by IPN (Nuclear Physics Institute in France).

    When I worked on it, the accelerator was re-used for protontherapy

  3. So I built one from what I saw in the video.
    I tried it without a relay to begin with but what I found is that with 9 volts going through the rails the sparks sort of weld the ball to the tracks, they don’t stop it but they slow it down alot. So he is probably using three volts through the rails to turn on the light bulb and the relay, the relay then gives the full 9 volts to the coils.

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