CERN is stepping up the game in the field of nuclear research. The European physics research center inaugurated its newest particle accelerator, Linac 4, during a May 9 ceremony in the Swiss city of Geneva.
This latest acquisition marks the first step of an extensive hardware upgrade, which aims to gather even more data from the Large Hadron Collider or LHC — CERN's 17-mile-long circular accelerator, which scientists use to smash protons together at high speeds, comparable to the speed of light, in their quest to learn more about the universe.
The machine is designed to deliver higher energy particle beams to the accelerator complex, ultimately increasing LHC's luminosity by 2021.
"Linac 4 is a modern injector and the first key element of our ambitious upgrade programme, leading up to the High-Luminosity LHC," said CERN Director General Fabiola Gianotti in a press release.
"This high-luminosity phase will considerably increase the potential of the LHC experiments for discovering new physics and measuring the properties of the Higgs particle in more detail," explained Gianotti, who is the first woman to helm the world's greatest particle physics lab.
All About The Linac 4
The new particle accelerator measures about 90 meters in length (or about 295 feet) and was built in a span of almost a decade. Housed in an underground facility 40 feet below the city, the accelerator resembles on oil pipeline connected to a life support machine.
Linac 4 will serve as replacement for Linac 2, the 39-year-old injector that produces the flow of particles for the LHC. CERN invested 93 million Swiss francs ($93 million) to acquire the new machine, which will be hooked to the accelerator complex during the long technical shutdown scheduled for 2019 to 2020.
The new acquisition is set to become the first piece in the lab's accelerator chain and will be used to deliver proton beams to a wide range of experiments.
The linear accelerator will feed negative hydrogen ions to the Proton Synchrotron Booster, bringing the particle beam up to 160 million electronvolts — triple the energy produced by its predecessor.
The energy boost, combined with the use of hydrogen ions, will result in supplying the LHC with particle beams twice as intense, thereby upping the circular accelerator's brightness. By 2025, the LHC's luminosity is expected to increase by a factor of five.
As a result, scientific experiments carried out in the following decade — between 2025 and 2035 — will be able to compile nearly 10 times more data than before.
This is a great feat for researchers worldwide, since Linac 4 will power up the High-Luminosity LHC, making it possible to measure fundamental particles with more accuracy and observe rare processes occurring beyond circular accelerator's current level of sensitivity.
Cool Scientific Applications For The New Particle Accelerator
Thanks to its miniaturized hardware, Linac 4 can lead to the development of portable accelerators, with multiple potential uses.
In the future, the linear accelerator could assist doctors in the treatment of cancer, by creating isotopes that can diagnose and treat the disease. CERN has already developed a mini-Linac designed to treat tumors with particle beams, which is just small enough to be used in hospitals for medical imaging.
However, because isotopes have a fast rate of decay, getting the particles to patients in time has been an issue. Nevertheless, Linac 4's considerably smaller hardware will be able to expedite the entire process.
"With our portable technology they could be made inside the hospital already," says Maurizio Vretenar, Linac 4 project leader.
The particle accelerator could benefit not only medicine, but also the art world. Vretenar plans to build a 3-foot, 220-pound prototype — similar to the one already used by the Louvre, in Paris — which could help experts analyze artwork and allow art conservators to identify forgeries.
The device could be used in museums to evaluate exhibits and assess the condition of art and jewelry pieces. This application of the Linac 4 would use a very low intensity of particles, eliminating the risk of any damage, and could render results in just a few hours.
In this way, museum custodians would be able to pinpoint the origin of jewelry, tracing it back to the mine it came from, or detect heavy elements that reveal the age and type of different paints, signaling restorations or fakes.