Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California have found a new way of accelerating subatomic particles to the highest ever energy levels recorded from a compact accelerator. They have set a new world record by exciting these particles to an energy gradient which is almost 1,000 times that of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.

This feat was accomplished by using a specialized petawatt laser and charged-particle gas combination to accelerate electrons inside a plasma tube to an energy of 4.25 giga-electron volts, told the Berkeley Lab. The class of particle accelerators that were thus produced are capable of shrinking the conventional accelerators which are several miles long into machines that can fit on a table.

Traditional particle accelerators like the LHC at CERN work by speeding up particles by modulating electric fields inside a metal cavity, a technique which has a limit of 100 mega-electron volts per meter before the metal breaks down.

The LHC which is the largest and the most powerful particle collider in the world at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) has been used for testing various theories of particle physics and high-energy physics that shaped the formation of the universe

The team in the Berkeley experiment, however, took on an entirely different approach and the particle electrons were sped up within a nine centimeter long, straw like thin tube that contained plasma.

Dr. James Symons, associate laboratory director for Physical Sciences at Berkeley Lab, called it “an extraordinary achievement for Dr. Leemans and his team to produce this record-breaking result in their first operational campaign with BELLA.”

Dr. Leemans explained that he and his colleagues were “forcing this laser beam into a 500 micron hole about 14 meters away” and that “the BELLA laser beam has sufficiently high pointing stability to allow us to use it.” In addition, he said that the laser pulse, which fires once a second, is stable to within a fraction of a percent – something that “never could have happened” with less precise, harder-to-control lasers.

The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) had run various computer simulations before the actual test was carried out. The results of the experiment were first published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

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