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Hardware Hacking

Journal UnapprovedThought's Journal: A CERN-like Particle Accelerator on a Tabletop

from the playing-with-relativistic-matches-dept.

If you ever wondered what a supercollider might be used for, you might be interested in a recent advance in Chirped Pulse Amplification by Gérard Mourou. (Not that the laughable translation of the original French article will help...) CPA allows laser pulses to be amped up to produce relativistic effects, such as pulling matter out of a vacuum, or creating mini black holes or Big Bangs. Until now, the technique had been limited by heavy reflective losses. Mourou envisions applications in many areas, including: relativistic microelectronics, the selective destruction of tumors with a proton-bombardment medical therapy, harmless confinement of radioactive emissions using light beams, and the usual particle discovery research. The thing is, a collider as powerful as CERN could be replaced by a tabletop CPA unit.

The story submission above was rejected in favor of "Web Chats Help the Chronically Ill" and the "End of the Light Bulb." Maybe /. needs a sub-section to the Science section for harder, fairly cryptic but decadal breakthroughs in physics? I mean, Dr. Mourou here has reduced the reflective losses of a chirped pulse laser system from 50% to 3% -- that's an improvement you won't see every day. The power output of a pulsed laser can now be raised by orders of magnitude from what was possible previously...

In any case, I might as well add a few tidbits here that wouldn't have fit in the story. For instance, I also have a link to Mourou's original 1985 paper on the subject, when he was at the University of Rochester. Basically, the guy has been working on this for decades, and only now that a holographic grating has been manufactured to reduce losses (due to unwanted reflection) can the device function at higher intensity than 10^14 W/cm^2 without nonlinear complications. Mourou foresees the possibilty of 10^24 by 2006, so you instantly get an idea of how much more intensity is possible for a light beam with this advance. To produce a mini Big Bang, Mourou thinks you need 10^30, in effect using E=mc^2 to produce a small amount of matter in a vacuum, where there was only a large amount of energy coursing through it to begin with.

There's also the implications that Mourou himself didn't mention. A disturbing one that immediately comes to mind is: does this universe come to an end if we cause this simulated Big Bang he talks about? If not (cross your fingers) then we may be able to theorize that there may have been a cause to the Big Bang.

But there's some interesting applications for the energy industry as well. If you can confine the radioactivity of any material using light beams, that may imply that nuclear waste disposal issues can be drastically reduced. It may be possible to prevent irradiation of the structures surrounding a nuclear plant, leaving much less waste behind as a result of producing electricity with a nuke plant. It may become much safer to put smaller nuclear plants nearer to the places that are using the energy, without worrying about being irradiated or using heavy shielding.

If you can confine radioactivity, you may also be able to use pulsed light beams to deflect neutron bombardment in space. Who knows? This may enable safer long term manned space flights.

And, if you can fit CERN on a tabletop, so to speak, did we save a lot of money by not building the superconducting supercollider? Was it the right decision after all?

There are many possibilities. Maybe you can think of a few more? I've actually enabled comments this time :)

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A CERN-like Particle Accelerator on a Tabletop

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