Awakening the potential of plasma acceleration

August 27, 2014 by Katarina Anthony
Construction work is already underway at CERN for the AWAKE project. Credit: Maximilien Brice/CERN

Civil engineering has begun for the new Proton Driven Plasma Wakefield Acceleration Experiment (AWAKE) at CERN. This proof-of-principle experiment will harness the power of wakefields generated by proton beams in plasma cells, producing accelerator gradients hundreds of times higher than those used in current radiofrequency cavities.

Like all of CERN's experiments, AWAKE is a collaborative endeavour with institutes and organisations participating around the world. "But unlike fixed-target experiments, where users take over once CERN has delivered the facility, in AWAKE, the synchronised proton, electron and laser beams provided by CERN are an integral part of the experiment," says project leader Edda Gschwendtner. "CERN's involvement in the project goes well beyond providing infrastructure and services."

Construction teams are already turning the area at CERN that housed the CERN Neutrinos to Gran Sasso (CNGS) experiment into a home for AWAKE.

"We have removed part of the proton beam line and cleared the area upstream of the CNGS target to make way for the AWAKE installation, including a laser and 10 metre plasma cell," says Gschwendtner. "CNGS's area downstream of the target, however, has been left untouched. As it is radioactive, we constructed a new shielding wall in July so that the AWAKE facility upstream can be a safe, supervised working area for users."

The AWAKE facility will also feature a clean room for the laser, a dedicated area for the electron source and two new tunnels: one small tunnel to hold the laser beam (which ionises the plasma and seeds the wakefields); and a second, larger tunnel that will be home to the electron beam line (the "witness beam" accelerated by the plasma). These new tunnels are currently being carved out for the facility (see image).

The AWAKE team at the Max Planck Institute for Physics (link is external) in Munich, Germany, is preparing to move both equipment and know-how to CERN. "In Munich, we are working with a 3-metre prototype of the plasma cell," says Allen Caldwell, AWAKE spokesperson. "Our focus is on the science: learning the properties of the plasma cell as well as possible before we start with the 'real thing'."

"We are also addressing a number of hardware issues," says Patric Muggli, AWAKE Physics and Experiment Coordinator. "For example, we are creating valves that allow the laser, proton and electron beams to enter the plasma cell. These need to be extremely fast but also durable, opening and closing an unprecedented 40,000 times in its lifetime."

Although new technology is being created for AWAKE, the experiment also re-uses existing equipment from CNGS, CLIC/CTF3 and other CERN facilities. The experiment will be conducted in two phases, the first starting in 2016.

Explore further: Famed atom smasher gets twice the energy next year (Update)

More information:

Related Stories

Taking pictures with protons

June 18, 2014

A new facility for using protons to take microscopic images has been commissioned at the ring accelerator of the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung GmbH (Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research) in Darmstadt, ...

CERN collider to become the world's fastest stopwatch?

November 12, 2012

Heavy ion collisions at CERN should be able to produce the shortest light pulses ever created. This was demonstrated by computer simulations at the Vienna University of Technology. The pulses are so short that they cannot ...

IHEP in China has ambitions for Higgs factory

July 23, 2014

Who will lay claim to having the world's largest particle smasher?. Could China become the collider capital of the world? Questions tease answers, following a news story in Nature on Tuesday. Proposals for two particle accelerators ...

A path toward more powerful tabletop accelerators

May 28, 2014

Making a tabletop particle accelerator just got easier. A new study shows that certain requirements for the lasers used in an emerging type of small-area particle accelerator can be significantly relaxed. Researchers hope ...

Recommended for you

Physicists design $100 handheld muon detector

November 20, 2017

At any given moment, the Earth's atmosphere is showered with high-energy cosmic rays that have been blasted from supernovae and other astrophysical phenomena far beyond the Solar System. When cosmic rays collide with the ...

A curious quirk brings organic diode lasers one step closer

November 20, 2017

Since their invention in 1962, semiconductor diode lasers have revolutionized communications and made possible information storage and retrieval in CDs, DVDs and Blu-ray devices. These diode lasers use inorganic semiconductors ...

Carefully crafted light pulses control neuron activity

November 17, 2017

Specially tailored, ultrafast pulses of light can trigger neurons to fire and could one day help patients with light-sensitive circadian or mood problems, according to a new study in mice at the University of Illinois.

Strain-free epitaxy of germanium film on mica

November 17, 2017

Germanium, an elemental semiconductor, was the material of choice in the early history of electronic devices, before it was largely replaced by silicon. But due to its high charge carrier mobility—higher than silicon by ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.