A private Texas company has developed an entirely new plasma accelerator the size of a delivery vessel, not a metropolis.
Austin-based TAU Methods has developed a prototype miniature plasma accelerator that could make particle accelerator know-how available to any institution that needs it. According to TAU, this could make personalized medicines, break down microplastics and even remove nuclear waste.
“It has the potential to revolutionize the way we work, for example in biomolecular chemistry,” says TAU founder and CEO Björn Manuel Hegelich Information week. “About vaccines, new drugs, new crops, trash, microbes that eat plastic, [this technology has] Various functions. “
Particle accelerators typically use electromagnetic fields to accelerate charged particles to very high velocities and energies for analysis. The largest accelerator currently in operation is CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland, which accelerates and collides two beams of protons head-on.
This compact accelerator produces efficient X-rays by accelerating elementary particles to approach the speed of sunlight with an intense laser, however, unlike the circular shape seen at the LHC, this compact machine does so in a straight line.
“We’re mostly using a campus-scale everyday particle accelerator, but now we’re going to put it in a room with our proprietary technology,” Hegelich said.
“I mean, as far as the machine goes, it’s still going to be a huge machine. However, it’s likely to be tens of meters instead of kilometers, and it’s worth hundreds of thousands of dollars instead of billions. So, more It may be more readily available to a wide range of institutions and companies. By doing so, we can get more people in and assist in using these and different unimaginable tools.”
The circumference of the LHC is approximately 17 miles. The difference is that TAU’s accelerators are designed to be no more than a few delivery containers.
“CERN accelerates protons and antiprotons, and the machine we’re working on will focus on electrons, at least initially,” Hegelich said.
“The limitation of using a conventional particle accelerator is that you have to build it with one thing: you build the acceleration structure out of metal, and then you definitely apply electrical principles to that metal structure, and electrical principles accelerate particles. Now, you’ll be able to make The discipline has become so powerful: at a certain level, it can be so powerful that it will now start to damage your accelerator structure and damage metals. We use plasma.
“Once you strip all the electrons out of the atoms, the plasma is you: when you do that, you can’t actually hurt it any more. So lasers create extremely powerful electrical disciplines. That means we’ll make We have less room to accelerate.”
These X-rays allow researchers to examine molecular-level methods that allow the evaluation of proteins and new drugs.
“You might hit your protein with very shiny X-rays, and X-rays do damage the protein. Before it destroys the protein, you get all the details about the structure and you can measure it,” Hegelich said. “With X-ray free electron lasers, you can now input proteins that are normally impossible to measure.”
TAU hopes the compact accelerator will make one of these assessments more accessible to the scientific community.
The accelerator can currently only accelerate electrons to the speed required by the software. Still, TAU hopes to eventually be able to accelerate protons, which require extra energy but may allow them to be used for the complete removal of nuclear waste.
Currently, the heavy parts of nuclear power plants, produced by nuclear fission reactions, are processed by inserting them into tanks, which are then placed in tunnels and sealed with rock and clay. This nuclear waste consists primarily of uranium, but also has a different radioactive component, similar to the long-lived isotopes of technetium, neptunium, and plutonium.
By bombarding these heavy atoms with protons, you will be able to convert one component into another.
“You can convert it into another component, so you can take a long-lived isotope from nuclear waste and turn it into a short-lived isotope,” Hegridge said.
“The physics of this is pretty clear. We’ve been doing this at accelerators for years, and there’s no doubt it’s achievable, and it’s done regularly in nuclear physics experiments.”
Still, it’s only sensible if the amount of energy used to remove the waste is lower than the energy produced by nuclear fission reactions when the waste is produced.
These machines are currently only in the prototype stage, but TAU hopes that within the next few years, their first absolutely practical accelerators may be borrowed by scientists.
“We have a lot of prototypes: now we have lab prototypes in my university lab, which we then use in different tutorial institutions that we work with. For that is where we work normally now. That’s where we show the basic idea, “Hegelich said.
“After this, we now have our first corporate prototype, which is mainly under development, and the contract will take a couple of years or three years to build the machine, after which we hope to have a primary complete with imaging etc. Machine, maybe 5 years.
Hegelich expects each accelerator to be worth around $100 million to $20 million, eventually getting cheaper with time and growth.
“The main ones, like a few prototypes, are likely to be more expensive. However, when you start making all kinds of them, I think it’s somewhere between $10 and $20 million, depending on the scale. We’ll even be below $10 million … So for simple X-ray imaging of 3D printed elements, metallic elements, etc., it costs millions of dollars.”
Right now, TAU says its biggest problem is finding certified staff for this emerging discipline.
“It’s still a relatively new discipline, and we’re competing with the largest and most prestigious tutoring institutions on the planet.”
Texas firm makes tiny particle accelerators on the market