Laser-Driven Particle Accelerator Chips Could Advance Medical Devices

Today's accelerators use microwaves to boost the energy of electrons, but researchers have been looking for more economical alternatives. A new technique that uses ultrafast lasers to drive the accelerator is a leading candidate. Researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have used a laser to accelerate electrons at a rate ten times higher than conventional technology, in a nanostructured glass chip smaller than a grain of rice. 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. This advance could dramatically shrink particle accelerators for science and medicine. Applications include small, portable X-ray sources to improve medical care, as well as more affordable medical imaging.