Particle Accelerators

Speeding up particles on a molecular level, such as protons and electrons, sounds like an idea from a sci-fi book. However, it’s not just speeding up by a few mph either; the particles get sped up to nearly the speed of light. However, despite how crazy this may seem, there are already machines that can accomplish this “impossible idea.” These mechanical marvels are called particle accelerators because they literally accelerate particles. But how do particle accelerators work, and what are they used in human society?

Particle accelerators were invented in the 1930s, almost a century ago! They are usually circular accelerators, where the particles travel in a loop, or linear accelerators, where the particles travel in a straight line. In circular accelerators, such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), two beams of particles can be accelerated in different directions, causing them to collide with each other at the end of an experiment. Particles can also be sped up and collided with a target in both circular and linear accelerators. The pipe must create an ultrahigh vacuum to prevent the lightspeed particles from colliding with dust or air particles. Particle accelerators also use different magnetic charges to concentrate the particles together and steer the energy in circular accelerators. To speed up particles, accelerators use electric fields inside the pipes to charge and pull particles forward. Metallic chambers along the pipe are used so the radiofrequency resonating can push particles further along an accelerator. Despite having such complicated components within an accelerator, most only need to have one bottle of hydrogen gas replaced twice a year to have enough particles to work.

Particle accelerators are used in the studies of physics and atomic research. Collisions with targets can help scientists study the makeup of atoms, which is the foundation of all things. Although particle accelerators can be used for research, most are used for commercial purposes. To be exact, there are more than 30,000 active particle accelerators in the world, and 97% of them are all used for medicine, manufacturing, food safety, and more. For example, the impact of particles can be used for manufacturing semiconductors, a part of a computer chip, and plastics and ceramics. Particle accelerators are also used for cancer treatments and medical imaging. They can even be used for sterilizing food products and medical equipment for the safety of customers and patients.

Particle accelerators, originating from the 1930s, are spectacular machines capable of speeding up atoms nearly to the speed of light. Although it sounds quite useless and unnecessarily complicated, particle accelerators play an essential role in the evolution of the human race. Used in research, medicine, manufacturing, food safety, and more, the world would be a different place if particle accelerators didn’t exist.