Mini antimatter accelerator could rival the likes of the Large Hadron Collider

August 9, 2018 by Hayley Dunning, Imperial College London
Simulation of groups of positrons being concentrated into a beam and accelerated. Credit: Aakash Sahai

Researchers have found a way to accelerate antimatter in a 1000x smaller space than current accelerators, boosting the science of exotic particles.

The new could be used to probe more mysteries of , like the properties of the Higgs boson and the nature of dark matter and dark energy, and provide more sensitive testing of aircraft and computer chips.

The method has been modelled using the properties of existing lasers, with experiments planned soon. If proven, the technology could allow many more labs around the world to conduct antimatter acceleration experiments.

Particle accelerators in facilities such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in CERN and the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at Stanford University in the United States, speed up elementary particles like protons and electrons.

These accelerated particles can be smashed together, as in the LHC, to produce particles that are more elementary, like the Higgs boson, which gives all other particles mass.

They can also be used to generate X-ray laser light, such as in the LCLS, which is used to image extremely fast and small process, like photosynthesis.

However, to get to these high speeds, the accelerators need to use equipment that is at least two kilometres long. Previously, researchers at Imperial College London had invented a system that could accelerate electrons using equipment only meters long.

Now a researcher at Imperial has invented a method of accelerating the antimatter version of electrons—called positrons—in a system that would be just centimetres long.

The would require a type of laser system that currently covers around 25 square metres, but that is already present in many physics labs.Dr. Aakash Sahai, from the Department of Physics at Imperial reported his method today in the Physical Review Journal for Accelerators and Beams.

Credit: Imperial College London

He said: "With this new accelerator method, we could drastically reduce the size and the cost of antimatter acceleration. What is now only possible by using large physics facilities at tens of million-dollar costs could soon be possible in ordinary physics labs."

"The technologies used in facilities like the Large Hadron Collider or the Linac Coherent Light Source have not undergone significant advances since their invention in the 1950s. They are expensive to run, and it may be that we will soon have all we can get out of them.

"A new generation of compact, energetic and cheap accelerators of elusive particles would allow us to probe new physics—and allow many more labs worldwide to join the effort."

Creating 'Higgs factories' and testing aircraft

While the method is currently undergoing experimental validation, Dr. Sahai is confident it will be possible to produce a working prototype within a couple of years, based on the Department's previous experience creating electron beams using a similar method.

The method uses lasers and plasma—a gas of charged particles—to produce, concentrate positrons and accelerate them to create a beam. This centimetre-scale accelerator could use existing lasers to accelerate positron beams with tens of millions of particles to the same energy as reached over two kilometres at the Stanford accelerator.

Colliding electron and positron beams could have implications in fundamental physics. For example, they could create a higher rate of Higgs bosons than the LHC can, allowing physicists to better study its properties. They could also be used to look for new thought to exist in a theory called 'supersymmetry', which would fill in some gaps in the Standard Model of particle physics.

The positron beams would also have practical applications. Currently, when checking for faults and fracture risks in materials such as aircraft bodies, engine blades and computer chips, x-rays or electron beams are used. Positrons interact in a different way with these materials than x-rays and electrons, providing another dimension to the quality control process.

Dr. Sahai added: "It is particularly gratifying to do this work at Imperial, where our lab's namesake—Professor Patrick Blackett—won a Nobel Prize for his invention of methods to track like antimatter. Professor Abdus Salam, another Imperial academic, also won a Nobel Prize for the validation of his theory of weak force made possible only using a pre-LHC positron-electron collider machine at CERN. It's wonderful to attempt to carry on this legacy."

Explore further: New particle accelerators will probe how charged particles assume a new identity, or change 'flavor'

More information: Aakash A. Sahai, Quasimonoenergetic laser plasma positron accelerator using particle-shower plasma-wave interactions, Physical Review Accelerators and Beams (2018). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevAccelBeams.21.081301

Related Stories

Reaching new heights in laser-accelerated ion energy

February 20, 2018

A laser-driven ion acceleration scheme, developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde, could lead to compact ion sources for established and innovative applications in science, medicine and industry.

Recommended for you

When mixing granular matter, order among disorder

August 14, 2018

Mixing liquids is easy, or at least scientifically understood: a drop of food coloring will eventually mix into a cup of water through diffusion, and a dollop of cream can be mixed into coffee with a spoon through what is ...

How hot is Schrodinger's coffee?

August 14, 2018

A new uncertainty relation, linking the precision with which temperature can be measured and quantum mechanics, has been discovered at the University of Exeter.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (3) Aug 09, 2018
So, $13.5 billion us for a large Hadron collider.... replaced with a comparative of 50 dollars worth of flipped nickels.

And we'll find a lot more with the new, as well, as the experiments won't be confined to a select and controlled politically oriented committee, nor cost a fortune to enact.

$1 says they'll find out the higgs boson is, in some very important ways.... a bucket of crap. Not specifically false positives, mind you, but completely misread.
1 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2018
Hmmm antimatter particle beams... add this to trumps shopping list for his new Space Force. As both weapon and beam propulsion.

"Beam-powered propulsion, also known as directed energy propulsion, is a class of aircraft or spacecraft propulsion that uses energy beamed to the spacecraft..."

-You know, big sacrificial pusher plate hit by remote antimatter particle beam... who needs VASIMR?
1 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2018
So, $13.5 billion us for a large Hadron collider.... replaced with a comparative of 50 dollars worth of flipped nickels
I think scientists understand the risks of doing big science in this age of accelerating innovation. So youve got to ask, what other uses could machines like the LHC and the ITER be used for? Perhaps for making and storing antimatter in bulk?

See my previous comment.

'But otto, how does an antimatter beam penetrate the atmosphere?'
3 / 5 (2) Aug 09, 2018
Matter-Antimatter technology;

with a hint of antigravity using antimatter;

by the way, if antimatter touches any element or material it self destructs immediately.

5 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2018
units meter,the following doesn't make much sense to me.

"The accelerator would require a type of laser system that currently covers around 25 square metres, but that is already present in many physics labs."

I can't find it in the paper I downloaded from the Arxiv server.
Clarification would help.
not rated yet Aug 09, 2018
16 by 16 feet?
Tenstats> units meter,the following doesn't make much sense to me.
"The accelerator would require a type of laser system that currently covers around 25 square metres, but that is already present in many physics labs."
I can't find it in the paper I downloaded from the Arxiv server.
Clarification would help.

The very question I was going to ask, why when the LHC is 27km long are they haggling over 25m* that's a square 5m by 5m or 16 by 16 feet?

As it is radio-frequency accelerator there is less to this invention than meets the eye, as it occupies a considerably larger amount of space than its claimed puny size.
This needs looking into in more ways than one!
5 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2018
I remember articles a while back which talked about 'table top' or 'Lab accelerators' so there is no real surprise to hear about other ideas related to this. However, I would rather like to hear from those who involved with laser technology as to what kind of time span we are considering. I feel confident that, as with other technologies, accelerators will decrease in size but as a layman I don't know what kind of obstacles need to be overcome. No doubt a military application will come first.
1 / 5 (4) Aug 10, 2018
Whee! More magic vaporware to enthuse the woo boys. Cause who needs actual proof in the age of trumpeting steershit? This article reads like a pennystock offering, lots of promises & vague caveats.

As for all you Space Force volunteers? You will look mighty adorable in your favorite comicbook hero spandex. When you march singing the "Horst Wessel Lied". As you pass bye the "Glorious Leader Trumpenella's review stand. (doesn't HE look magnificent in that old uniform of Mussolini?).

You all being enthusiastically cheered on by a throng of hundreds of actors. Hey, it's a paying gig, man!

You all pulling balloons of rocketships to display the awesome might of empty boasts. (Hey now! How did that baby trumpy balloon get in there?)

Ohh! A satirical balloon for the senile buffoon. Loving it!

The problem Faux News will be directing the cameras to NOT show the line of US Generals & Admirals behind putin's strumpet. Falling all over each laughing as you parade by.
not rated yet Aug 11, 2018
Your comment adds laughs to that sweet parade, rrwillsj. A real pleasure to see you cooperating so eagerly.
not rated yet Aug 11, 2018
Actually these small shitty accelerators don't compete LHC at all, as the physicists need even better beam quality (energy homogeneity and collimation) than the LHC currently provides for their research of high energy physics. But they could already compete the accelerators used in medical centers and military research bases, where their ability to destroy everything in sight is what counts there (as the players of RPG's know well).
1 / 5 (1) Aug 11, 2018
Uh W1, you do know that Role Playing Games are fantasy fiction? And just because you can cartoon imaginary chimera does not, will not, make those delusions real?

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.