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OK, so it can’t reach the energies produced at the LHC or Tevatron, but this is still pretty impressive. Engineers at a micro-electro mechanical systems conference that was held recently in Cancun, unveiled this tiny cyclotron device, which can speed argon ions down a 5-millimeter accelerator track. Their chip-size cyclotron can guide argon ions with around 1.5 kiloelectronvolts of energy down a 5-millimeter accelerating track before whipping them around a 90-degree turn. The system boosts the ions’ energy by 30 electronvolts. That’s not very much energy, but unlike its larger cousins, this accelerator has no need for bulky magnets and instead uses an electric field set up between parallel electrode guide rails to accelerate and steer its particle beam. Yue Shi, an electrical and computer engineering graduate student at Cornell University, constructed three versions of the accelerator; two on silicon-on-insulator (SOI) chips and one on a printed circuit board. Each had a straight, segmented acceleration track and either a 1-, 2-, or 4-mm turning radius. To test the design, she fired a stream of argon ions with around 1.5 keV of energy from a commercial ion source into each chip’s tracks. Electric fields between four segments in each chip’s acceleration track gave the ions a kick before they raced into the turn. Then another electric potential between two electrode curbs pulled ions around the bend. Only those ions with just the right amount of energy made it through. So, by detecting ions at the finish line, Shi confirmed that they truly got a boost. A few hurdles remain, including a more efficient way to grab ions from the 75-micrometer-wide beam. Lots of ions are lost in the transition, Shi said. But the device at least proves the concept that you don’t need humongous frozen magnets and cavernous spaces to speed up some particles.

 

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