WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- Scientists in the United States have developed, for the first time, a tiny particle accelerator that fits on a vacuum-sealed chip which can be used in the future to perform cutting-edge experiments in chemistry, biological discovery and medical uses that don't require the power of a massive accelerator.
The study, published on Thursday in the journal Science, described the silicon chip that can accelerate electrons, using an infrared laser to deliver energy in less than a hair's width.
Scientists from the U.S. SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory carved a nanoscale channel out of silicon, sealed it in a vacuum and sent electrons through the cavity while transmitting pulses of infrared light along the channel walls to speed the electrons.
"The largest accelerators are like powerful telescopes. There are only a few in the world and scientists must come to places like SLAC to use them," said SLAC electrical engineer Jelena Vuckovic. "We want to miniaturize accelerator technology in a way that makes it a more accessible research tool."
The researchers plan to accelerate electrons in roughly an inch of chip space to 94 percent of the speed of light, or 1 million electron volts (1MeV), by the end of 2020.
The accelerator-on-a-chip technology could also lead to new cancer radiation therapies. Currently, medical X-ray machines fill a room and require patients to wear lead shields to minimize collateral damage.
"In this paper we begin to show how it might be possible to deliver electron beam radiation directly to a tumor, leaving healthy tissue unaffected," said Robert Byer, the paper's co-author and a physicist at Stanford University.