Particle Accelerator on a Chip

This month, Dexter Johnson interviewed Joel England of the Advanced Accelerator Research Department at SLAC about progress in “Particle-Accelerator-on-a-Chip” Technology.

File this under “Whoa!”

Scaling down the functions of a particle accelerator form a building to a chip!

Aerial view of SLAC accelerator. Not really a fair comparison, but you get the idea-scaling down a lot.

Part of the trick is to substitute lasers for microwaves as the energy source. The laser is 10,000 times shorter wavelength, so the magnetron cavity and other parts can be correspondingly smaller.

At this stage the beam achieves about 30-50 MEV.  They want to boost this to 1M MEV or more for practical uses such as medical treatments.

Obviously, a hand held chip for $1000 is a totally different animal from a room size multimillion dollar behemoth (let alone a kilometer-scale, billion dollar atom smasher) . Lots of uses that are exotic today will become routine, and new uses will come on line.

The article mentions medical applications, such as treatment for cancer.  Cheap and ubiquitous radiation treatment.

What other uses might be common?

Obviously, we all think about creating photon guns, though I doubt that this particular technology is useful for that, for many reasons.  On the other hand, it might be a very effective weapon for disabling electronics without harming humans (a phone/camera/drone zapper?)

Cheap particle accelerators might well be useful for various kinds of industrial and chemical processes, as well as non-destructive testing, including, perhaps dating of archaeological samples. For these applications, much depends on what kinds of particles can be produced and what energies are possible.

If this can be made to work, it opens up new opportunities. For example, it will clearly be possible to create arrays of accelerators, in many geometries. Even better, the geometry will be flexible and tunable.  Who knows what might be done if you have 1,000 beams, potentially from 360 degrees?

Small accelerators will also be quite portable. They will surely be mounted on vehicles an robots, to do chemical analysis or processing in hard to reach places.  Will they be deployed as wearable devices?  They might be part of a wearable medical monitor, taking chemical assays.


  1. Test Infrastructure and Accelerator Research Area. Accelerators for Society project. 2017, http://www.accelerators-for-society.org/.
  2. Dexter Johnson, Nanofabrication Enables “Particle-Accelerator-on-a-Chip” Technology, in IEEE Spectrum – Nanclast. 2017. http://spectrum.ieee.org/nanoclast/semiconductors/devices/nanofabrication-enables-acceleratoronachip-technology
  3. E. A. Peralta , K. Soong, R. J. England, E. R. Colby, Z. Wu, B. Montazeri, C. McGuinness, J. McNeur, K. J. Leedle, D. Walz, E. B. Sozer, B. Cowan, B. Schwartz, G. Travish, and R. L. Byer, Demonstration of electron acceleration in a laser-driven dielectric microstructure. Nature, 503 (7474):91-94, 11/07/print 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12664

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