Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Scientists have set a new record for electron acceleration using a plasma wave accelerator. The new technology produced electron beams with energies up to 7.8 billion electron volts across an 8-inch-long plasma wave.
Particle accelerators are essential to advanced particle physics and the quest to solve the great mysteries of the cosmos. But today's particle accelerators are massive, requiring miles of underground space. They also cost millions of dollars to construct.
To advance the field, scientists have been working to develop particle accelerators in more compact sizes. To shrink the cost and size of the technology, researchers had to boost acceleration.
To enhance acceleration, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's BELLA Center deployed a new type of plasma waveguide.
The new device features a gas-filled sapphire tube. An electrical discharge triggers the formation of plasma, and a laser fired through the tube hollows out a channel in the plasma. The wall of plasma surrounding the channel then helps to focus the subsequent laser pulses.
By concentrating the energy of the laser pulses, the accelerator can achieve greater electron beam energies across a shorter space.
"The heater beam allowed us to control the propagation of the driver laser pulse," lead researcher Anthony Gonsalves said in a news release. "The next experiments will aim to gain precision control over electron injection into the plasma wave for achieving unprecedented beam quality, and to couple multiple stages together to demonstrate the path to even higher energy."
Gonsalves is scheduled to present his team's achievement on Wednesday at the 61st Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Plasma Physics.
The energies achieved at such a small scale doubled the world record for plasma wave accelerators. But to approach electron acceleration energies comparable to the Large Hadron Collider and other underground facilities, researchers must find a way to connect a series of laser plasma accelerators.