Particle Accelerator on a Chip

Nancy Anderson
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Particle accelerators are massive, incredibly powerful machines we use to probe the origins of the universe itself. Right? Maybe not. At the recent MEMS 2011 Conference, researchers from Cornell University, funded in part by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) unveiled an on-chip particle accelerator capable of increasing an argon ion’s energy by 30 electronvolts. No, it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s done using only the electric fields set up on a semiconductor wafer.

Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) are generally lumped in with nebulous future tech that may or may not ever see use in our lifetimes, but it’s certainly an area with tremendous potential to change the way our lives are lived out, with possible applications ranging far and wide; from medicine to security, telecommunications, and everywhere in between. MEMS has been turning into a hot new engineering career field over the last few years, thanks in part to advances in our understanding of materials science, and to advances in remote sensing and scanning techniques developed out of quantum mechanics.

The MEMS accelerator that the Cornell researchers showed off at the conference has the potential to unlock a host of new applications, including portable scanning equipment, or medical devices for treating cancer without massive radiotherapy equipment. IEEE Spectrum has a more detailed story on the particle-accelerator-on-a-chip.

Image property of Yue Shi, Cornell University.

Mike Wrightly is mostly diesel fumes and duct tape; he grew up around heavy equipment, and holds a Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering. You can see more of Mike's blogs on Engineer-jobs blog.

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