As official confirmations slowly but surely come in, we can anticipate the next decade will see the birth of several large-scale particle accelerators all around the world. Among others are SPIRAL2 (France), Linac4 (Switzerland), XFEL (Germany), FAIR (Germany), IFMIF-EVEDA (Japan), ThomX (France), SuperB (Italy), HL – LHC (Switzerland), ESS (Sweden) and MYRRHA (Belgium). As an example, the International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility, IFMIF, is an accelerator-based neutron source that will use Deuterium-Lithium stripping reactions to simulate 14 MeV neutrons from Deuterium-Tritium fusion reactions.
The innovation stream driven by such large-scale projects not only leads to discoveries by the users of such facilities once operational, but the commissioning itself drives significant innovation from the various providers involved. A case in point is the cost reduction for the electronics (FPGA data acquisition and others) required for Digital LLRF and BPM sections. You probably won’t have your own particle accelerator at home next year, but they are definitely getting closer to your doorstep.
Scientific Applications of Particle Accelerators
The discovery of the Higgs boson in July of 2012 at CERN made the news all over the world (it even made it to CNN!). Although still an abstract concept, this discovery allowed us to see yet another example of what investments in particle accelerators can bring, aside from the usual stuff like inventing the Web, or shooting movies involving antimatter.
Most research at particle accelerators is centered on particle physics. Remember your chemistry class periodic table? Well, chances are that new elements have come up since the last time you looked at it. There is no question such high-end research centers are at the heart of many innovations we see around us (semiconductor transistors, lasers, nanotechnology, medical imaging, cancer treatments, and more). What may come as a surprise is what can be achieved with smaller scale accelerators.
Particle Accelerators: Coming Soon to a Facility Near You
All particle accelerators are not created equal: only a minority of them are used for fundamental and applied research. Smaller scale particle accelerators are required in various ‘everyday life’ applications, such as radioisotope generation for MicroPET and PET/MRI scanners. Industrial versions of particle accelerators are also used in applications such as radiotherapy, surface modification of materials, and biomedical therapies. Their role in today’s economy is actually more important than you may think. As stated by Barletta et al