Most accelerators, including the big ones at CERN and RHIC, use charged particles: protons, electrons, or ions (atoms with electrons removed to make them positively charged). That’s because it’s easy to accelerate that kind of particle using electric and magnetic fields. However, neutral particles like neutrons or normal atoms can’t be accelerated by those fields, even though they could be useful for particle colliders or bombarding materials for various reasons. A new multi-step method has solved that problem by accelerating ions, then restoring the electrons, leading to very energetic neutral atoms.

As we all know from elementary school physics, like charges repel. So any positively charged particle added to the plasma will experience acceleration from the plasma waves. Laser plasma accelerators are more compact than many other accelerator designs, including those used in big experiments like the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), although they haven’t yet reached the same energies. Plasma acceleration (sans lasers) is also important in many astrophysical processes. [Read more….]

Accelerating neutral particles on a lab bench