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ALICE (Accelerators and Lasers In Combined Experiments) is a test accelerator which has been designed and built at Daresbury Laboratory. It was formerly known as ERLP (Energy Recovery Linac Prototype).

The heart of this facility is an Energy Recovery Linac (ERL). High quality bunches of electrons are produced by a photo-injector source. This electron beam is then accelerated to around 30 million Volts through superconducting radiofrequency cavities. These bunches travelling at near light-speed are then compressed, to stimulate the production of intense, short pulses of light.

Key facts

  • The ERL is the first of a new type of accelerator to be built in Europe.
  • ALICE light sources include an infra-red free electron laser (IR-FREL), and high power terahertz (THz) radiation.


ALICE is used to investigate and overcome the challenges presented to scientists in designing and building future generations of accelerators like the UK's proposed new light source.

The intense light produced from ALICE can be used to probe, in minute detail, the inner workings of physical processes at the atomic level. Such studies can assist in solving some of the major challenges of the modern world. For instance developing more effective drugs or designing more efficient solar cells.

ALICE also provides an electron beam for injection into EMMA, a revolutionary new prototype accelerator with many potential applications.


The ALICE accelerator is an Energy Recovery Linac (ERL) that incorporates all the features of the 4th generation light source albeit at smaller scale. An ERL is not restricted by the dynamic properties of storage rings and, therefore, can attain an unprecedented electron beam brightness limited only by the electron gun. Energy recovery allows also a significant increase in an average power of the light sources (without building a dedicated power station nearby!).


Despite being a relatively small machine, ALICE has a great potential for conducting a large variety of projects ranging from dedicated accelerator R&D to numerous applications projects. Below provides highlights of several projects on ALICE.

List of projects

Current or completed projects

IR FEL commissioning

The commissioning of the ALICE infra-red free electron laser (IR-FEL) was a key milestone which was completed in 2010. You can read about the applications of the IR-FEL in the applications section of the website.

DC photogun commissioning

The electron source for ALICE is a direct current photogun, a novel type for UK accelerator science. The commissioning of this gun is challenging and a project in its own right.

ALICE commissioning

ALICE is an accelerator of a type which has not been built, operated, or used before in the UK. In fact, ALICE is the first energy recovery accelerator in Europe. Simply achieving operation of the accelerator in energy recovery mode, and then optimising the operation, is a challenging project in its own right.

Compton backscattering X-ray source

Demonstrating compton backscattered X-rays was one of the first milestones achieved on ALICE in 2009. A terrawatt femtosecond laser was scattered from the ALICE electron beam to produce X-rays. The x-ray pulses are characterised by 15-30keV photon energy and pulse lengths down to ~100fs. This X-ray source is ideal for pump-probe experiments.

THz research programme

Coherent enhancement of terahertz (THz) radiation occurs in ALICE due to shortness of the electron bunches after compression. This opens up new possibilities in THz research programme that has also a number of applications.

Synchronisation studies

A range of research activities (partially funded by the EU IRUVX project) related to optical timing distribution systems, electro-optic time-of-arrival monitors, bunch longitudinal profile feedback systems, fibre laser oscillators and clocks.

EMMA: first non scaling FFAG

An international collaborative effort to demonstrate proof-of-principle for the Non Scaling Fixed Field Alternating Gradient accelerator. The NS FFAG could be the accelerator of choice for medical applications (oncology), muon acceleration and for accelerator driven sub-critical reactors. ALICE serves as an injector to this new machine.

Electro-optical beam diagnostic

A hugely promising diagnostic method for measuring the longitudinal profiles of the electron bunches with the bunch length of ~100fs and below.

Bunch slicing with Laser Driven THz sources

A novel technique for an electron bunch modulation with a near single cycle high power THz pulse that is generated in a laser driven source.

Other developments

Gun ceramic development

During DC photogun commissioning, the ceramic electrical insulator proved to be a challenging component in terms of reliability. A collaborative effort between JLab, Cornell and Daresbury has delivered a much improved ceramic.

High Current ERL cryomodule development

An international collaboration between Cornell, Stanford, Lawrence Berkley, FZD Rossendorf and ASTeC aimed to develop a new SC linac cryomodule with high average RF power capability, reduced sensitivity to microphonics and increased higher order modes dumping.

Photocathode research

An ongoing program of photocathode research includes experiments on a dedicated photocathode test facility.


The ALICE facility encompasses several light sources and offers a variety of scientific exploitation possibilities from nuclear physics through to biosciences. Some of these possibilities have already received funding and are at an advanced state, others are potential activities that have been identified but for which funding still has to be secured.

For example, the ALICE THz source has been used for a programme of research on the biological effects of this type of radiation. The ALICE IR-FEL has been used for studies of diagnostic methods for cancerous cells.



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May 2014

  • Delivery of ALICE IRFEL beam on developing techniques for diagnosis of prostate, cervical, and oesophageal cancer, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Jan 2013

  • ALICE to be used in major project on developing techniques for diagnosis of prostate, cervical, and oesophageal cancer, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

March 2012

  • Full machine operation with 325 kV DC gun following installation of new HV ceramic insulator with monel butt braze joint.

September 2011

  • First infra-red Scanning Near-field Optical Microscopy image obtained using the ALICE IR-FEL.

June 2011

  • Transport of THz radiation into the Tissue Culture Laboratory.

April 2011

  • Acceleration achieved with EMMA, the world's first non-scaling FFAG.

October 2010

  • First lasing of ALICE IR-FEL.

August 2010

  • EMMA full ring installed and commissioned with non-accelerated 12-15 MeV beam. Multiple turns achieved.

June 2010

  • EMMA 4-sector commissioning completed with 15 MeV beam.

April 2010

  • First experiments with cell exposure to THz radiation.

March 2010

  • Helium processing of linac.
  • EMMA injection line commissioned with 30 MeV beam.

February 2010

  • First spontaneous radiation from infra red free electron laser.

December 2009

  • Transported a 30 MeV electron beam through the narrow free electron laser (FEL) vacuum vessel.

November 2009

  • Detected short pulse X-rays generated by interacting the multi-terawatt laser beam with the compressed relativistic electron beam of the ALICE accelerator.

August 2009

  • Beam loading effects in the booster SC cavities are greatly reduced and ALICE can now operate with ~40pC bunch charges at long ~100ms train lengths. After a prolonged conditioning of the linac cavities at a reduced RF pulse length of ~4ms, ALICE can now be operated at the beam energy of 30MeV.

July 2009

  • Another period of ALICE commissioning started after a longer than planned shutdown due to problems with the cryogenic and RF systems. The major goals for this period are (i) to demonstrate x-ray production from the Compton Backscattering (CBS) source and (ii) to conduct first experiments on irradiation of live cells with the THz radiation in the Tissue Culture Facility.

Feb 2009

  • Coherently enhanced broadband THz radiation generated.

Dec 2008

  • (7th) Beam accelerated through linac module.
  • (13th) First signs of energy recovery seen (low energy beam arriving at dump, reduced.
  • RF demand) (20th) Full energy recovery (230 kV/4.8 MeV/20.8 MeV) demonstrated.

Oct 2008

  • (24th) Beam accelerated through booster module.

Jun 2008

  • Stanford ceramic fitted to gun following numerous failures of bespoke design.

Mar 2008

  • Booster module returns from ACCEL.

Jan 2008

  • Booster module returns to ACCEL for repair.

Nov 2007

  • Photogun commissioning and beam characterization completed.

Oct 2007

  • Superconducting modules accepted.

Jun 2007

  • High power testing of linac module commences. Tuner problem identified.

Jan 2007

  • NWSF TW laser passes final acceptance tests.
  • BTS fully assembled, except for diagnostics shared with gun diagnostic beamline.

Nov 2006

  • Booster module cooled to 2K.

Oct 2006

  • (20th) Linac module cooled to 2K.

Sep 2006

  • 2K cryosystem commissioning commences.

Aug 2006

  • (16th) First beam (250 kV).

Jul 2006

  • Operation of the gun with dedicated gun diagnostic beamline started.

Jun 2006

  • (19th) Linac module arrives (6 months late).

Apr 2006

  • PI laser system working at full power and with partly assembled gun.
  • (4th) Booster module arrives (3 months late).
  • 4K cryosystem commissioning commence.

Mar 2006

  • SF6 system in place.
  • First in-situ operation of gun HV system.
  • NWSF TW laser ordered.

Feb 2006

  • CPI gun ceramic on site.

Jan 2006

  • All magnets from Danfysik now on site.
  • Successful vertical test of all cavities completed.

Dec 2005

  • NWSF project starts.

Nov 2005

  • Buncher returns.

Oct 2005

  • First gun ceramic rejected to manufacturer.
  • PI laser system working in laser room.

Aug 2005

  • Gun HV supply assembled.
  • Refrigerator and 2k platforms in place.
  • Buncher rejected to manufacturer.
  • Magnets arriving from Danfysik.
  • Magnet PSUs ready on site.

Jul 2005

  • Gun ceramic arrives.
  • Lightbox installed in accelerator hall.

Apr 2005

  • Vertical cavity tests at DESY commence.

Mar 2005

  • Gun manufacture complete.
  • First IOT delivered.

Feb 2005

  • Transfer of PI laser from RAL.

Dec 2004

  • Cathode ball polishing commences.
  • Magnets arrive from J-lab on loan.

Oct 2004

  • Laser room in tower ready.
  • Magnet tender out.

Sep 2004

  • Decide on one-chicane layout.
  • SF6 system (including pressure vessels) ordered.

Aug 2004

  • First IOT tests at manufacturer.

Apr 2004

  • Position of ERLP in tower building finalised.
  • Machine specification completed.
  • Cryogenic system ordered.
  • Order for superconducting modules placed.

Mar 2004

  • Gun diagnostic beamline design proposed to 4GLS IACTower building refurbishment finished.
  • First gun ceramic order placed.

Jan 2004

  • Design of gun diagnostic beamline commences.
  • Call for tenders out for superconducting modules.
  • Call for tenders out for cryogenic system.
  • PI laser system arrives - initial commissioning at RAL.

Dec 2003

  • 500 kV power supply delivered.
  • PI laser system ordered.

Oct 2003

  • In-house manufacture of gun commences.

Jul 2003

  • Call for tenders out for 500 kV power supply.
  • Arc decision made - TBA rather than Bates bend.

May 2003

  • First ERLP technical team meeting held.

Last updated: 21 July 2016


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