Particle accelerators can get big. Really big. Just take a look at the 27 km long Large Hadron Collider, spanning the border between France and Switzerland. According to a report from Nature, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, has just unveiled a miniature version of a similar particle accelerator, which could really come in handy for mobile experiments.
The new accelerator fits in the palm of your hand, and was designed by a research team in Germany. The accelerator uses terahertz radiation, with a wavelength somewhere between infrared and microwaves on the electromagnetic spectrum, which is about a thousand times shorter than the standard radio frequency range used by larger particle accelerators.
The Advanced Wakefield Experiment, or AWAKE, due to launch sometime next year, will accelerate particles by attaching them to waves of charge created in an ionized gas, and letting them “surf.” The new accelerator works on a small scale, but in the future could be used to allow accelerators to examine the forces that hold matter and energy together without digging tunnels hundreds of feet below the surface of the Earth.
One of the biggest problems facing the enormous accelerators like the LHC is the cost. Future accelerators built on the LHC’s model may be cost-prohibitive at higher energies, but the AWAKE project may introduce a new paradigm that relies less on space.