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The Argonne Tandem Linac Accelerator System (ATLASis the world’s first superconducting accelerator for projectiles heavier than the electron. This unique system is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Collaborative Research Facility open to scientists from all over the world. ATLAS consists of a sequence of machines where each accelerates charged atoms and then feeds the beam into the next section for additional energy gain.  High precision heavy-ion beams ranging over all possible elements, from hydrogen to uranium, can be accelerated to energies as high as 17 MeV per nucleon and delivered to one of three target areas.

The heart of ATLAS is the superconducting split-ring resonator. The first successful test of a niobium split-ring resonator occurred in November 1977 after two and a half years of intensive development. Niobium was chosen as the superconducting surface because it is the best available superconductor for a radio-frequency device. The outer housing of each resonator is made of niobium explosively bonded to copper. The interior components of the resonator are pure niobium in which liquid helium is in direct contact for cooling. The result is an accelerating structure in which a large electric charge flows back and forth 97 million times a second between doughnut-like drift tubes. A potential difference of about 800,000 volts is generated between the tubes and can be used to accelerate a beam of any atomic nucleus. 

In a linac accelerator, ions gain energy in a manner very similar to a person riding a surfboard on an ocean wave. If the surfer goes out far from the beach, he can match his speed to an incoming wave, get on the board, and ride the wave into the beach gaining speed in synchronization with the wave’s increasing velocity as it crashes into the beach. The ATLAS linac is constructed with seven different superconducting resonator designs each on creating an electromagnetic surfing wave of a different velocity. The resonators in ATLAS are able to begin accelerating particles which have a velocity of less than 1% the velocity of light (‘c’) and accelerate those particles to velocities up to approximately 15% c’. Each of the resonators in ATLAS is relatively small and independently controlled. This unusual independent control capability of each resonator makes it possible to adjust the effective speed of the accelerating electromagnetic surf-wave through ATLAS so that any ion, regardless of mass, can be accelerated.

When a wave of electromagnetic surf goes by, the ATLAS ion source provides 1,000 to 10,000 ions in a bunch which must jump’ on the wave for their trip through the linac. Although the ions in each bunch may start out from the same point, they are generally going in slightly different directions. Magnetic fields are used throughout ATLAS to steer these beams of charged particles and force them to go in the desired direction. In the linac these magnetic focusing fields are provided by superconducting solenoids interspersed between the resonators.

Since the first successful acceleration of an ion beam by the prototype ATLAS facility in 1978, ATLAS has been growing and expanding its capability to provide unique and powerful beams for the world-wide nuclear and atomic physics research program. The construction of ATLAS has continued until recently in parallel with the operation of the facility for research.