Atomic Awesome

Why The World Needs Nuclear Power

Nuclear_Power_Plant[Editor’s Note: Nuclear Science Week was pointed out to us on the tips line by Elizabeth Eckhart, along with a commitment to contribute. If you’d like to see AtomicToasters come back from its Chernobyl-like radioactive slumber, you should follow Elizabeth’s lead, and send in

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stuff for the rest of us to discuss. You can also follow Elizabeth’s Twitter account at @elizeckhart] Continue reading Why The World Needs Nuclear Power

User Input

User Input: Peculiar Knowledge

I was on a road trip last week with a co-worker, and through a long, circuitous route from diesel engines to hydrogen fuel cells, we got onto the topic of electricity generation. At some point, he opined that the only viable solution was solar power, and he couldn’t understand why the government wasn’t […]

User Input

User Input: Reconsidering the Past’s Future

Nuclear-powered Volvo?

Our post yesterday on the nuclear-powered train really got my brain humming. That would have been a really amazing mode of transportation, but only if we could have protected it enough to prevent a derailment turning into, you know, Chernobyl or Hiroshima. In fairness, however, that isn’t out of the realm […]

Big Complicated Machines

Big, Complicated Machines #13 – Intro to Particle Accelerators


Beamlines leading from the Van de Graaf accelerator to various experiments, in the basement of the Campus Universitaire de Jussieu in Paris. Image:Wikipedia

Good morning everyone.

Today we’re going to talk about particle accelerators, fascinating machines that have greatly expanded our knowledge of what matter is, and also of how the universe came into being. There are a great number of particle accelerators in use today, the newest and largest of which is the Large Hadron Collider that is located on the border of Switzerland and France, and operated by CERN. The LHC is the latest iteration in a long series of machines made to study the atomic structure of matter, with the first machines being made in the 1920s.

All particle accelerators use electric fields for the acceleration of charged particles to high energies and the confining of those particles into a defined and controlled beam. The beam is directed at various types of targets and materials and the interaction of the beam and the target matter is studied, typically by examining the tiny pieces of the atoms in the target that go flying off in all directions. Particle accelerators were called atom smashers for a long time for this reason. The manner in which the electric fields are applied varies widely, but particle accelerators fall into two basic categories, electrostatic accelerators and oscillating field accelerators, also known as radio frequency (RF) accelerators.

Continue reading Big, Complicated Machines #13 – Intro to Particle Accelerators