Accelerators form the backbone of SLAC's on-site experimental program. They are complicated machines, with hundreds of thousands of components that all need to be designed, engineered, operated and maintained to achieve the highest energy acceleration with the best possible particle beam properties.
Research at SLAC is continually improving accelerators, both at SLAC and at other laboratories, and is also paving the way to a new generation of particle acceleration technology.
Since 1962, SLAC’s innovative ideas in accelerator research and design have created a series of extraordinary achievements.
First came the SLAC linear accelerator (linac), with its 2 miles of copper cavities that use radio waves to push electrons and their antiparticles, positrons, to high energies. Once the scene of revolutionary particle physics experiments, today the linac provides a unique source of X-ray laser pulses for investigating matter at the smallest and fastest scales at the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).
Physicists and engineers at SLAC use their deep knowledge of large accelerators to upgrade existing accelerators and create new ones. For instance, as one of five U.S. institutions in the LHC Accelerator Research Program, SLAC is helping develop new accelerator technology for planned upgrades of the Large Hadron Collider at the European physics laboratory CERN.
SLAC physicists are also instrumental in developing technology for future accelerators, from linear and circular particle colliders to new, ultrabright X-ray light sources and advanced technologies for the accelerators of tomorrow.
Future generations of particle accelerators will use entirely different technologies from those of today, which are widely used not only for research but also in medicine and industry. By making them smaller and more efficient, scientists hope to expand accelerators’ role in society and their contributions to U.S. industrial competitiveness.
SLAC researchers have led the way in developing "plasma wakefield" accelerators, which boost electrons to very high energies in very short distances by making them surf on a wave of plasma. The technology has the potential to create linear accelerators that are 100 times more powerful; that is, they would boost electrons to a given energy in one hundredth the distance. FACET, the Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests, uses the first two-thirds of the SLAC linac to develop this technology. Early experiments have achieved energy increases of billions of electronvolts in mere tens of centimeters.