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UK scientists aim for more compact and affordable accelerators

3 September 2019 - Scientists from leading UK research institutions have set out a plan to achieve more powerful and compact accelerators, for the benefit of academia and industry alike.

The UK Plasma Wakefield Accelerator Steering Committee (PWASC) has compiled a roadmap for the development of plasma wakefield acceleration over the next 20 years.

Plasma wakefield accelerators rely on the huge electric fields formed in plasma waves driven by laser pulses or particle beams. These fields are 1000 times stronger than in conventional accelerators, which means that the size of the accelerator can be reduced by a similar factor. Shrinking 100-metre-scale (or larger) accelerators to a few metres could provide novel, compact X-ray sources with applications in a vast range of sciences, from biomedical research to materials development.

This could pave the way for affordable accelerators at universities, which would vastly increase the amount of research carried out in the UK using such X-ray sources. Advancements in this field could also mean that hospitals could also have their own affordable, compact radiation sources – this could make earlier diagnosis routinely available in large hospitals, which could transform treatment planning, delivery, and monitoring.

Key UK institutions have created the roadmap to identify any gaps in current science and technology that need to be addressed to allow this new generation of accelerators to reach their full potential.

STFC, as one of the country’s leading authorities on laser physics, has a representative on the committee – Rajeev Pattathil, of the Central Laser Facility (CLF).

CLF Director Professor John Collier said: “This roadmap is an important strategic step for the plasma accelerator community in the UK, highlighting the UK’s international leadership in this area along with identifying key priorities for future investment in order to exploit this.”

Chair of the PWASC, Professor Simon Hooker of the University of Oxford, said: “The roadmap develops a timeline of key developments, and derives 10 key recommendations which shall aid research councils and agencies and stakeholders in decision making. An over-arching finding is that while the UK has an excellent track record of conceptual and experimental leadership in this field, a concerted cross-council research and development programme is now required in order to realise the enormous promise of plasma accelerators and to maximize both their impact and the return on previous UK investment in this exciting research field.”

Useful links: The 2017 STFC Accelerator Strategic Review Report

Last updated: 04 September 2019


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