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Speedy Electrons
May 7, 2015   
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Researchers at the Solaris National Synchrotron Radiation Center in the southern city of Cracow are working to accelerate electrons to near-light speeds. This will make it possible to generate synchrotron radiation, a unique kind of light very useful for research purposes.

Worldwide, there are about 60 synchrotrons, or particle accelerators that emit high-intensity electromagnetic radiation. They drive technology development and have a profound influence on the innovativeness and competitiveness of economies. These devices have helped develop a number of ground-breaking diagnostic methods in medicine. They also played a crucial role in discoveries that landed researchers Nobel Prizes.

Poland’s first synchrotron is being built on one of the campuses of the Jagiellonian University in Cracow.

A synchrotron is a multidisciplinary research device that opens new opportunities for studies in fields such as biology, chemistry, physics, materials engineering, medicine, pharmacology, geology and crystallography.

The researchers working on the Cracow project say they have already generated their first electrons using a device known as an RF gun. This is where the initial acceleration of the particles begins. The ultimate aim is to make them achieve near-light speeds.

According to the researchers at the National Synchrotron Radiation Center, electrons will first be accelerated in a linear accelerator until they acquire an energy of around 600 MeV (megaelectronvolts). Then they will be fed into the synchrotron where they will be put in circular motion and successively accelerated to their ultimate energy of 1.5 GeV (gigaelectronvolts). The linear accelerator will be about 40 meters long in total.

All this must be done to generate synchrotron radiation, a kind of unique light that is very useful in research. “Producing the first electrons in the electron gun took hours of work by physicists, computer technicians and engineers,” said Adrianna Wawrzyniak, coordinator of the project.

The synchrotron has a set of electromagnets each of which weighs 6 tons. Ultimately, there will be 12 such electromagnets. They are being produced using pioneering technology developed at the Max IV Laboratory synchrotron center run by Lund University in Sweden.

The first experiments in the Cracow synchrotron project are due to be carried out later this year. The total cost of the project is around zl.153 million, with the synchrotron building alone costing zl.50 million. The project is being financed entirely from the European Regional Development Fund under the European Union’s Innovative Economy Operational Programme for 2007-2013.

Olga Majewska
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