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Here Is How Physicists Speed-Up Particles To 99.99% The Speed Of Light

Already, you might be familiar with the idea of particle accelerators through the labor of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the shocking accelerator that allowed scientists to spot the Higgs boson. But the LHC is not alone; the world is armed with more than 30,000 particle accelerators that are used for a seemingly endless variation of tasks. Some of these machines, like the LHC, accelerate particles to almost the speed of light to blow them together and study the important building blocks of our universe. Others are used to seal milk cartons and bags of potato fries.

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York is home to one of the world's most innovative particle accelerators: the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS II). The NSLS II will allow scientists to do a wide variety of science varying from increasing better drug treatments, to building extra advanced computer chips, to examining everything from the molecules in your body to the dust you walk on. When researchers accelerate particles to these high speeds in the NSLS II, they force them to discharge energy which they can be used to do a mind-boggling group of different experiments.

As electrons accelerating at nearly the speed of light drive around turns, they drop energy in the form of radiation, such as X-rays. The X-rays emitted at the NSLS II are enormously bright, a billion times brighter than the X-ray machine at your dentist's workplace. When researchers focus this really bright light onto a minor spot, it lets them examine the matter at an atomic level. It’s kind of like a microscope on steroids. Here is how the NSLS II forces particles to 99.99% the speed of light, all in the name of science. First, the electron gun produces electron beams and feeds them into the lined accelerator, or linac.

Ali Sundermier

In the linac, electromagnets and microwave radio-frequency fields are used to speed up the electrons, which must move in a vacuum to confirm they do not collide with other particles and slow down.

Ali Sundermier

Then, the electrons enter a booster ring, where magnets and radio-frequency fields accelerate them to about 99.99% the speed of light. Then they are inserted into a spherical ring called a storage ring.

Ali Sundermier

In the storage ring, the electrons are handled by an assortment of magnets. The blue magnets bend the movement of the electrons, the yellow magnets focus and de-focus the track of the electrons, and the red and orange magnets take distant electrons and bring them into a nearby path. The smaller magnets are corrector magnets, which preserve the beam in line.

Ali Sundermier

This is an insertion device in the storage ring. Insertion devices are magnetic arrangements that twist the electron beam as it passes through the device. This creates an enormously bright and focused beam.

Ali Sundermier

As the electrons drive around turns in the storage ring, they decelerate somewhat, dropping energy. The lost energy can be changed into different procedures of electromagnetic radiation, such as X-rays, that are focused down beam lines running in straight lines tangential to the storage ring. Finally, of the beam line, the X-rays collide with samples of whatever material is the subject of the research.

Ali Sundermier

This is an X-ray spectroscopy beam line, where researchers analyze the chemical arrangement of materials by exciting the electrons in an atom.

Ali Sundermier

The circumference of the NSLS-II is so large, almost half a mile that many people working there travel everywhere on tricycles.

Ali Sundermier

The NSLS II is still in the early stages of its development, having just taken over for its successor (the NSLS), in 2014. When it's complete, it will be able to accommodate about 70 different beamlines.

Ali Sundermier

This article was originally written by Business Insider.

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