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Short proton bunches rapidly accelerate energetic electrons
Experiments show that short bunches of protons can produce electric fields that are strong enough to accelerate energetic electrons compactly. This discovery could lead to miniaturized high-energy particle accelerators.
For almost a century, particle accelerators have revealed the microscopic structure of the Universe in ever-increasing detail. This continual improvement has required progressively higher particle energies and, in turn, larger accelerators (the latest accelerator for such exploration1 has a circumference of 27 kilometres). In conventional accelerators, particles are propelled by electromagnetic waves that are produced by external circuits. To drastically reduce the size of accelerators, scientists are exploring ways to use waves that are instead generated internally, in an ionized gas known as a plasma2. In a paper in Nature, Adli et al.3 report such a method, which makes use of an experiment in which the plasma waves are driven by bunches of protons — much like a motorboat on a lake drives waves in its wake.