Particle accelerators could be incredibly useful for medicine – if they weren’t so huge. The SLAC accelerator, for example, is almost 2 mi (3.2 km) long, while CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) runs for a stunning 16.7 mi (27 km). Now, scientists at Stanford have managed to shrink the tech down to fit on a computer chip, which could lead to more precise cancer radiation therapies.
In regular accelerators, particles are beamed through vacuum tubes and accelerated to incredibly high speeds. The SLAC accelerator gives its particles a speed boost by irradiating them with microwaves, while the LHC uses superconducting electromagnets.
The machinery required to do that makes these systems very bulky, and hard to scale down for use in hospitals and smaller scientific facilities. In the past CERN has managed to create a smaller prototype that measures about 6.5 ft (2 m) long – and now a team from Stanford and SLAC have created an even smaller version that fits on a single silicon chip.