Argonne’s ATLAS facility gets a face lift

By Jared SagoffFebruary 26, 2014

ARGONNE, Ill. – Physicists in search of exotic nuclei are like ornithologists on the lookout for rare birds: both need precise equipment to capture the fleeting appearance of the objects of their pursuit.

Because subatomic particles are too small to see with just a pair of binoculars, nuclear physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory use a machine called the Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System, or ATLAS, which generates high-intensity, high-energy beams from a variety of atomic nuclei that range from protons to uranium.

The new upgrade to the facility will “open new capabilities that in turn will lead to new types of experiments and new discoveries,” said Argonne Physics Division director Robert Janssens.

ATLAS consists of a number of distinct components. These include three separate accelerator sections – a positive ion injector that provides the initial beams, a booster linear accelerator that increases the energy of these beams and a third linear accelerator that accelerates the heaviest nuclei to energies suitable for experiments. 

Recently, thanks to funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), Argonne scientists and engineers were able to complete two major phases of a large upgrade to the ATLAS facility. The first involved the installation of a component called a radio-frequency quadrupole linear accelerator at the entrance of the positive ion injector.

The radio-frequency quadrupole linac provides the ability to accelerate more intense beams than ever before, which in turn allows scientists to see rarer and rarer events, like the formation of the heaviest nuclei. “ATLAS was always good at giving us beams of all the elements,” said Janssens.  “Now it’s giving us these with unprecedented intensities.”

The second major advance in the ATLAS upgrade project involved an overhaul to the booster system.  Built in 1978, the ATLAS booster was the first component of the system constructed and thus in need of renovation. Thanks to ARRA funding, Argonne was able to replace the original four tanks of superconducting resonators with two newer, more efficient tanks that not only do the job but achieve world-record accelerating capability.

“There are two major things we are interested in: intensity and efficiency,” Janssens said.  “We don’t want to lose any of the precious particles, and we want to conduct our experiments with beams as intense as we possibly can.”

ATLAS has several hundred users every year, and Janssens believes that the new upgrade will be an immense help to users from around the world looking to conduct research with either stable or radioactive beams.

For more information about the ATLAS upgrade, see http://www.phy.anl.gov/research/ATLAS_upgrade.html.

Research on ATLAS is funded by the DOE’S Office of Science.

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