The Sound of Science - 'Particle Accelerators'

Oct 18, 2019

SAM: Welcome to the Sound of Science on WNIJ. I’m Sam from NIU STEM Outreach.

PHILIPPE: And I’m Philippe Piot from NIU Physics – and Sam, I want to talk about particle accelerators which are becoming increasingly useful for everyday life.

S: You and I could talk all day about them. For our listeners, though, give us a thumbnail.

NIU STEM Outreach

P: Particle accelerators boost the energy of particles and beams for various applications. For example, CERN in Europe collided two proton beams to confirm the Higgs Boson back in 2012.

S: There’s another accelerator just down the road, at Fermilab. 

P: That one produces the most powerful beam of neutrinos in the world. It’s part of an experiment to shoot neutrinos 800 miles through the earth to help us understand how those particles are related to neutron stars and black holes.

SAM: But you and your team work on accelerators in a different capacity. Tells us about that.

P: Right, we’re working on making accelerators smaller and more efficient in collaboration with the Argonne Wakefield Accelerator.

SAM: They’re so small, I actually held one in the palm of my hand. Normally it would take a few feet to produce the same acceleration. It looked like a metal brick the size of a deck of cards.

P: It’s part of the Wake Field Accelerator. Basically, we send a dense bunch of electrons down the tube. The bunch excites “electromagnetic” wakefields in the tube similar to the wake produced by a boat in a canal. A second bunch properly launched in the tube can “ride the wave” and get accelerated. We get an incredibly energetic beam with very little input. And the best part? The tube only cost us 25 bucks.

S: What kind of every day applications could this lead to?

P: Accelerators are used in everything from treating the food we eat, to helping the fight against cancer. We’re also working on an accelerator that can detect nuclear materials at ports of entry.

S: You can learn more about Dr. Piot’s work, plus all the research in high-energy physics, by taking a free tour at Fermilab in Batavia and Argonne in Lamont. Thanks for listening to the Sound of Science on WNIJ.

P: Where you learn something new every day.