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Particle Accelerator

January 10, 2006

The action in particle accelerators makes the fastest racecars look like slugs.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
The world’s fastest ride. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Particle accelerators can speed up tiny bits of matter to nearly the speed of light. A listener from Omaha writes to ask how they do it. We asked Roger Dixon, director of the Accelerators Division at Fermilab in Illinois.

ROGER DIXON (Accelerators Division at Fermilab, Illinois):
The basic acceleration process is much like a rock falling off a building in a gravitational field; it goes faster and faster as it falls toward the ground.

HIRSHON:
But instead of gravity, accelerators use a chain of powerful electric fields to speed up the particles. At Fermilab, this happens in a circular tube that’s four miles long. The particles zoom around the tube until they’re going fast enough; then they’re bounced off a surface or smashed into other particles. By analyzing the scattered debris, scientists can learn about the smallest details of our physical universe.

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.