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Particle Accelerator

January 10, 2006

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


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.

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.