$16.6M Project Seeks New Particle Accelerator

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A new £8.3 million (approximately $16.6 million) project being funded by the British government seeks to develop a new type of particle accelerator, which could lead to more effective cancer treatment, greener electricity and less nuclear waste.

Particle accelerators are used to produce beams of charged particles such as protons or electrons, which are then used for a wide variety of applications in medicine and industry and for pure scientific research. Researchers say there is a compelling need for new types of accelerators that are easier to operate and maintain, are more reliable and compact, yet are more flexible and efficient.

One such accelerator is the "non-scaling fixed-field alternating gradient" (NS-FFAG) accelerator. It is considered very promising by scientists, although one has yet to be built and there are many technical challenges to be overcome before such a machine could be used commercially.

The new CONFORM (Construction of a Non-scaling FFAG for Oncology, Research and Medicine) project has received £7.5 million ($15 million) from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the leading funding agency for research and training in engineering and the physical sciences in the United Kingdom.

The research is being led by professor Roger Barlow from the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester, in collaboration with the Science and Technology Facilities Council at the Daresbury Laboratory, The Cockroft Institute (also based at Daresbury), the University of Oxford, Imperial College London, the Gray Cancer Institute and the Universities of Birmingham, Surrey, Leeds, and Glasgow.

"An opportunity is arising which could allow the NS-FFAG to be used as a new type of charged-particle therapy machine for treating cancer. The reduced size, increased reliability and flexibility of such machines should all lead to lower costs of ownership while delivering more effective therapies," Barlow said.

He added that beams of protons or heavier particles such as carbon ions can deposit much more radiation directly in the cancer, while losing much less energy in the surrounding healthy tissue.

"NS-FFAGs could be used for many other purposes. They could be used to help generate electricity without significant greenhouse gas emissions while reducing the amount of long-lived nuclear waste produced. They could play a significant role in elementary particle physics, perhaps leading to new discoveries about the origin and structure of the universe we see around us today," Barlow said. "This type of accelerator could also be at the heart of a new generation of very intense sources of neutrons for studying the structure of materials and the dynamics of chemical reactions, of interest to physicists, chemists, biologists, engineers and many industries.

"The benefits of this type of particle accelerator are large and wide-ranging. However, the behavior of beams in these machines is impossible to predict in detail. We need to understand their stability and how tolerant they are of small changes in configuration," he said.

The CONFORM project will is split into three areas: EMMA (Electron Machine with Many Applications) will look to develop a prototype FFAG to be built at the Daresbury Lab, while PAMELA (Particle Accelerator for Medical Applications) is a design study for a proton NS-FFAG for medical uses. The third area will look at possible applications, from archaeology to zoology.

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Published: May 2007
The scientific observation of celestial radiation that has reached the vicinity of Earth, and the interpretation of these observations to determine the characteristics of the extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena that have emitted the radiation.
A charged elementary particle of an atom; the term is most commonly used in reference to the negatively charged particle called a negatron. Its mass at rest is me = 9.109558 x 10-31 kg, its charge is 1.6021917 x 10-19 C, and its spin quantum number is 1/2. Its positive counterpart is called a positron, and possesses the same characteristics, except for the reversal of the charge.
In image processing and machine vision, the rate of change of pixel intensity.
An SI prefix meaning one billionth (10-9). Nano can also be used to indicate the study of atoms, molecules and other structures and particles on the nanometer scale. Nano-optics (also referred to as nanophotonics), for example, is the study of how light and light-matter interactions behave on the nanometer scale. See nanophotonics.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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