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University of Nevada, Reno professor showcases 'mini' ion accelerator

Tom Cowan's team is thinking smaller, but with big impact. Particle accelerators are a key research tool in a high energy physicist's arsenal, but they take up a lot of space miles and miles of it. But at the University of Nevada, Reno, smaller is better.

Cowan, director of the Nevada Terawatt Facility at the University, and his research partners have produced a proton beam that has 100 times higher quality than any conventional particle accelerator and fits on a tabletop.

Irradiation with accelerated carbon ions can pinpoint a tumor and destroy it without sacrificing surrounding tissue, making possible treatment for some cancers, such as those in the head region, that were previously untreatable.

Reducing the size, and thus ultimately the cost, and improving the quality of the ion beam could provide broader access to basic research as well as applications such as ion beam cancer therapy, Cowan said.

"This could result in cheaper and more readily available ion beam cancer therapies, which have been shown to be far more precise in treating cancer than conventional therapies," he added.

Using ultra high-intensity, short-pulsed lasers to irradiate thin metallic foils, Cowan and his team have generated a high-current beam of protons and ions.

"In principle, this could replace roughly 30 feet of conventional radio frequency accelerators," Cowan told attendees at the American Physical Society meeting here. The experiments were performed at the Laboratoire pour l'Utilization des Lasers Intense (LULI) laser facility at the Ecole Polytechnique near Paris, France, and at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, N.M., using its Trident laser.

Current particle accelerators, by comparison, include the Department of Energy's Fermilab accelerator in Illinois, which is four miles in circumference, while the huge CERN European Laboratory in Switzerland -- made widely popular in the Dan Brown novel, Angels & Demons -- is nearly 1
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Contact: Melanie Robbins
mrobbins@unr.edu
775-784-4941
University of Nevada, Reno
18-Apr-2005


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