CERN, the home of the largest particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), may be more associated with quests to discover and prove the existence of subatomic particles in attempts to unveil the secrets of the universe.

The facility, however, appears to also have potentials in medical application albeit the 27 kilometer LHC isn't fit for the job so engineers at CERN came up with a miniature linear accelerator, or mini-Linac, to have something more useful in the medical industry.

At 2 meters long, the mini-Linac is just small enough for it to be used in hospitals for medical imaging and treatment of cancer. The accelerator is composed of four modules each measuring 50 cm long.

The first of the modules was already completed. Serge Mathot, from CERN's engineering, said that the first segment is considered an important milestone because it validates the concept and all the stages of the construction of the device.

Engineers at CERN acknowledged that building an accelerator designed for medical purposes comes with new technological challenges but developing Linac4, a larger accelerator that boosts negative hydrogen ions to high energies, has given them the notion that the technology is within reach.

The mini-Linac is a radiofrequency quadrupole (RFQ), a component that can be found at the beginning of proton accelerator chains and designed to generate high-intensity beams. The challenge involved with designing the miniature accelerator was to double RFQ's operating frequency to shorten its length and this high frequency has not yet been achieved before.  

 "Thanks to new beam dynamics and innovative ideas for the radiofrequency and mechanical aspects, we came up with an accelerator design that was much better adapted to the practical requirements of medical applications," said Alessandra Lombardi, who is in charge of the RFQ design.

The "mini-RFQ" is able to generate low-intensity beams, with no significant losses and its specifications make it the perfect injector for new high-frequency and compact linear accelerators that can use protons to treat cancer.

Because it is small in size and light weight, the accelerator can be used in hospitals to produce radioactive isotopes for imaging. It can also accelerate alpha particles for advanced radiotherapy and since it can be easily transported, it can have other uses other than in the medical industry such as for the analysis of archeological materials.

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