The U.S. Department of Energy, with the help of researchers at Stanford University and other public and private institutions, have demonstrated the ability of a chip no larger than a grain of rice to accelerate particles 10 times faster than a conventional particle accelerator can do alone. The chip, which is specially nano-fabricated of fused silica, has the potential to drastically scale down the machinery necessary for particle research, security scanners, medical devices and other technology. The global effect of this advance could be just as revolutionary as silicon was.
However, it may take some time before scientists can collect and snap together all the puzzle pieces of this technology. Although the specially ridged inner channel of the chip can intensify by many factors the energy of a particle in the later stages of acceleration, a conventional particle accelerator (such as the Large Hadron Collider, Fermilab or CERN of dubious “God particle” fame) is still needed to get the particle up to speed in the first place.
But even here, science may have serendipitously shaken hands with itself. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany have concurrently reported some success in accelerating low-energy electrons using laser light. This could signal a marked change in the workaday humdrum of the advanced quantum mechanics world, as current research facilities rely on microwaves, which are far less energy efficient than lasers.
The Department of Energy is the single largest funder of the physical sciences in the U.S. Its research on this project, the results of which first appeared in Nature, is additionally supported by Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Advanced X-Ray Integrated Sources (AXiS) program, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Tech-X Corp.