Particle Accelerator… On A Chip

When you think of a particle accelerator, you usually think of some giant cyclotron with heavy-duty equipment in a massive mad-science lab. But scientists now believe they can create particle accelerators that can fit on a chip smaller than a penny. The device uses lasers and dielectrics instead of electric fields and metal. The conventional accelerators are limited by the peak fields the metallic surfaces can withstand. Dielectric materials can withstand much higher fields but, of course, don’t conduct electricity.

Physicists fabricated a 225 nanometers wide channel in various sizes up to 0.5 millimeters long. An electron beam moves through the channel. Very short infrared laser pulses on top of the channels accelerate the electrons down it using tiny silicon pillars.

The electron beam entered the channel at 28,400 electron volts. They exited at 40,700 electron volts, a substantial increase. The tiny pillars are only two microns high, so fabrication is tricky. Possible applications include cancer treatment, electron microscopy, and the creation of compact high-energy lasers.

The nanofabrication required for these devices won’t be in our garage any time soon. However, we hope this might lead to a new class of devices that we can use to build exciting new things. After all, remember how it used to be hard to build things using a laser?

We’ve seen laser-based accelerators before. If you want a history of particle accelerators, we can help you there, too.

21 thoughts on “Particle Accelerator… On A Chip

      1. “You mean the static electricity machine from grade school science fairs?”

        Yup (well, modulo the spelling error). What do you think happens to an electron in a 20 kV electric field? It gains 20 keV.

        There are multi-story versions of van de Graaf generators (usually in a tandem configuration) in physics facilities around the world.

    1. Hobby grade laser based manufacturing machines are not uncommon in makerspaces and better equipped garages. From laser cutters and engravers to SLA 3D printers, there are a small number of increasingly available laser based tools available to the masses.

      And if you want to stretch it a bit, LIDAR is often employed in building and manufacturing (especially reverse engineering).

  1. “and the creation of compact high-energy lasers.”
    sigh… Always seems to come to the trickle down from any possible weapons usage, to drive the funding.

    But I do confess to liking my microwave ovens, aka old wartime radar tech.

    1. Compact high-energy lasers in this case do not have a combat application. The energy density needed to produce a laser that does harm to a human body (or more likely a missile casing) still requires what scientists refer to as a “metric shittonne” of electricity.

      Shrinking the lasing assembly won’t hurt military applications, of course. A lighter and smaller laser source might allow for new kinds of targeting in antimissile systems, and that’s not nothing. However, the real issue remains how densely we can store energy and how quickly it can be delivered to the laser. Energy storage tech continues to improve, but slowly. This development won’t change that.

      The _other_ kind of directed-laser weapon doesn’t need shrinking or greater power than a half-watt or so. That’s the kind of weapon that uses an infrared laser targeted at people’s eyeballs, and is a sooooooooper war crime that can be built with off-the-shelf technology.

  2. “The tiny pillars are only two microns high, so fabrication is tricky.”

    Two microns (+/- …?) depth is perfectly doable in a low-level MEMS lab, but the 225 nanometer wide channels is another thing.

  3. If only I had a garage.
    The volumetric lithography machine my company is working on developing is perfectly capable of 200nm channels. 2µm pillars are easy. But getting a home with garage in Amsterdam…

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.