To make the next generation of world-class particle accelerators – one even grander than the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland – scientists will need to either create an extraordinarily large machine or rethink the basic principles that underpin the functioning of the accelerator. Because it is unlikely that a single country or even an international consortium can financially support the construction or operation of a facility on the order of dozens to hundreds of miles in size, researchers have begun to look for new avenues to create the extremely high energies necessary to look even more closely at the building blocks of matter.
One such strategy involves a phenomenon known as wakefield acceleration, which can create gradients at least five times higher than those produced by conventional linear accelerators. Unlike traditional accelerators, which employ only one particle beam, wakefield accelerators use two beams. Like a speedboat rushing over a lake, each drive bunch – the first beam -- leaves behind an electromagnetic wake, which creates an electric gradient that is then used to accelerate the main beam.
Although the construction of a large-scale particle accelerator based on wakefield acceleration is still at least several years off, the technology promises to dramatically reduce the size of particle physics projects that are forecasted to cost in the billions of dollars without diminishing the energy of the experiment.