Sunday, September 29, 2013

Accelerator on a Chip & Desktop Particle Accelerators

Star Trek replicator. Got SketchUp? Get the model here!
FABrication :: Now seems like as good a time as any to air one of the topics that comes up in causal conversation around the lab -- that is, the technological road maps necessary to achieve our favorite pieces of sci-fi hardware. One of my favorites has to be the Star Trek replicator. How exactly do we get from where we are now to energy-to-matter conversions in machines that spit out anything our imaginations can conjure?

One flow goes something like this:
computer-controlled manufacturing > 3D printing > accelerator driven transmutation technology (ADTT) > replicators
Of course, somewhere between existing ADTT systems and replicators we'd need major breakthroughs in power production and manipulating atomic and subatomic particles in the midst of energy-to-matter conversion to actually use this process for manufacturing or "replicating" anything. Additionally, current particle accelerators constitute expensive and very massive complexes scientists live and work amongst to conduct experimental research rather than practical tools we can use everyday in our homes or places of work.

But what if a particle accelerator could sit on your desktop? While still far off, we're possibly one step closer, as SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory researchers announced their "accelerator on a chip." According to their press release (found here) they claim... 
In an advance that could dramatically shrink particle accelerators for science and medicine, researchers used a laser to accelerate electrons at a rate 10 times higher than conventional technology in a nanostructured glass chip smaller than a grain of rice.
They also claim... 
At its full potential, the new “accelerator on a chip” could match the accelerating power of SLAC’s 2-mile-long linear accelerator in just 100 feet, and deliver a million more electron pulses per second.
SLAC's current 2 mile long accelerator.
A 100 foot accelerator is still not going to fit on your desktop. The cost of building and operating one would still be prohibitively expensive, and while SLAC says its new breed of accelerator technology may be used for practical applications including, "X-ray devices for security scanning, medical therapy and imaging, and research in biology and materials science," it probably won't be replicating a cup of Earl Grey for you anytime soon.

Is this a step toward a replicator that will make me a cup of Earl Grey in the future? Do you have a more realistic roadmap you'd like to share? Contact us.

For those out there not interested or even aware of particle accelerators and their role in experimental physics, the proposed applications of SLAC's new "accelerator on a chip" might help raise public interest and support for further research and development of smaller, cheaper, and more accessible systems.

For the rest of us, no matter how far off a replicator might be, an "accelerator on a chip" is an alluring headline backed with interesting, groundbreaking research. Follow SLAC on Twitter @SLAClab and visit their website here.