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Accelerator Science

…speeding the pace of progress

Generating beams of charged particles that travel at phenomenal speeds isn’t just a technical challenge in itself. It provides an indispensable research tool that, by revealing matter’s innermost workings, helps find answers to key questions about the Universe and delivers brand new scientific insights benefiting fields as diverse as medicine, security and aviation.

Coupled with our funding of and access to extraordinary overseas facilities, the awe-inspiring accelerators we design, build and operate in the UK play a pivotal role in the inspiring science we both undertake and enable. Developing innovative drugs and therapies; designing improved engine components; understanding the structure and properties of new ‘smart’ materials – this is technology that helps spinouts, start-ups and many other kinds of organisation make big strides forward.

Our focus is on three broad categories of accelerator:

Facilities at the Furthest Limits

It takes cutting-edge, record-breaking accelerators to push the boundaries of science further than ever before, while creating spin-off benefits that are often impossible to predict. For example:

  • Large Hadron Collider (LHC): the most powerful particle accelerator ever built, is based at the European particle physics laboratory CERN, near Geneva in Switzerland. One of the world’s largest laboratories and dedicated to the pursuit of fundamental science, CERN is also the UK’s particle physics laboratory and we manage this country’s annual subscription to the organisation. In 2012, the LHC hit the headlines worldwide with the discovery of a particle consistent with the elusive Higgs boson – potentially a watershed moment in the history of physics.

Facilities that Change the World

We’re home to a cutting-edge suite of phenomenally efficient, incredibly reliable accelerators that meet the needs of a huge range of academic and industrial experimental programmes. For example:

  • Diamond Light Source: Funded by us in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, Diamond accelerates electrons to near-light speed to produce x-ray, infrared and ultraviolet beams used to explore the building blocks of life, the origins of the Universe and much more besides.
  • ISIS: Our ISIS facility is the world’s most successful neutron source of its type. Probing matter’s deepest secrets, its array of leading-edge instruments has been harnessed in support of projects spanning the panorama of science and technology.
  • ESRF: We manage the UK’s shareholding in and subscription to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), located in Grenoble, France. This x-ray light source is the most powerful of its type in Europe and is used by academic and commercial researchers in fields ranging from petrochemicals to microelectronics.
  • Accelerator Science and Technology Centre: a Centre of Excellence for accelerator research in the UK. ASTeC studies all aspects of the science and technology of charged particle accelerators, ranging from large scale international and national research facilities through to specialised industrial and medical applications.

    Our staff pursue world class research and development programmes on behalf of STFC and ASTeC is also a partner in the Cockcroft Institute with the Universities of Lancaster, Liverpool and Manchester. Additional collaborators include John Adams Institute, other HEIs and international Laboratories.

Facilities for the Future

We’re constantly exploring how accelerators could be made more powerful, more sophisticated or simply more enlightening. Whether aiming to enhance existing machines with brand new techniques and effects or to develop completely new accelerators, this research is the key to unleashing new possibilities in experimentation and discovery. For example:

  • VELA: Producing short-pulse beams of electrons that are highly stable and customisable, the Versatile Electron Linear Accelerator (VELA –formerly the Electron Beam Test Facility) is aiding the development of cutting-edge accelerator systems.
  • ALICE: ALICE is an acronym standing for Accelerators and Lasers In Combined Experiments. The project is designed to investigate next generation particle accelerator beam technology and also to produce light from both accelerated electrons and advanced lasers that can be used simultaneously in cutting edge demonstration experiments. ALICE's technology is capable of making real-time movies of chemical reactions at the atomic level. This capability will have a major impact in research carried out in the fields of drug development, materials science for energy applications and environmentally friendly technologies.
  • EMMA: The Electron Machine of Many Applications (EMMA) is a proof-of-concept accelerator that represents the very first of its specific kind anywhere in the world, and could catalyse the development of a new generation of accelerators that contribute to new cancer therapies, for instance.
  • MICE: The Muon Ionisation Cooling Experiment (MICE) is a project to build a prototype "muon ionisation cooling channel". Muon ionisation cooling is a technique designed to reduce the intrinsic size (emittance) of a beam of muon particles and is essential for future projects like the Muon Collider.
  • CLARA: (Compact Linear Accelerator for Research and Applications) is a proposed novel FEL test facility focussed on the generation of ultra-short photon pulses with extreme levels of stability and synchronisation. The ultimate aim of CLARA is to experimentally demonstrate that sub-coherence length pulse generation with FELs is viable, and to compare the various schemes being championed. The results will translate directly to existing and future X-ray FELs, enabling them to generate attosecond pulses, thereby extending the science capabilities of these intense light sources.
  • Laser-plasma accelerators: Super-intense pulses produced by our VULCAN and GEMINI lasers have shown the innovative ability to accelerate particles over very short distances and produce high-quality beams of protons, ions and electrons, opening up new possibilities in accelerator application.

From the most fundamental research to the development of new products and technologies, our accelerators are speeding the pace of scientific progress and represent an invaluable asset for the UK and its people.

Last updated: 11 March 2016


Science and Technology Facilities Council
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