Stanford Linear Particle Accelerator

Charlie Hopkins
July 17, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2015

Linear Particle Accelerator

Fig. 1: Aerial photo showing the 2 mile length of SLAC, as it is the largest linear accelerator in the world (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

A linear particle accelerator is a machine that drastically intensifies the energy of charged particles or ions, by accelerating them using electromagnetic waves. The charged particles are pushed by oscillating electromagnetic waves in a vacuum down a long, copper tube, reaching close to the speed of light. These electromagnetic waves not only generate incredible speed, but they keep the particles confined in a narrow beam as well. [1] By exposing these particles to such high speeds, scientists are able to see the structure and make up of matter. Imagine breaking a rack in a billiards game, when the cue ball (energized particle) has more speed and energy it can scatter the rack of balls (release of particles) much more easily. [2] The design of linear particle accelerators varies on the category of particle that is being augmented. Linear accelerators range in size from a cathode ray tube (found in most common televisions) to the 3.2-kilometre-long (2.0 mi) accelerator at the SLAC National Laboratory in Menlo Park, California, the largest in the world. [3]

History of SLAC

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory operates in Menlo Park, California, and is a United States Department of Energy Laboratory, under the programmatic direction of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science. Originally named Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, SLAC was founded in 1962 just west of the university's campus, covering 426 acres. The SLAC research program centers on experimental and theoretical physics researching elementary particle physics using electron beams and a broad program of research in atomic and solid-state physics. In March 2009 it was announced that the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory was to Receive $68.3 Million in Recovery Act Funding to be disbursed by Department of Energy's Office of Science. As of 2005, SLAC employs over 1,000 people, some 150 of whom are physicists with doctorate degrees. [4] SLAC also serves over 3,000 visiting researchers yearly, operating particle accelerators for high-energy physics, as well as the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory (SSRL) for synchrotron light radiation research, which aided in the research of Stanford Professor Roger D. Kornberg as he won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2006. [4]

Nobel Prizes at SLAC

Research at SLAC has aided in three Nobel Prizes in Physics:

© Charlie Hopkins. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] E. J. N. Wilson, An Introduction to Particle Accelerators (Oxford U. Press, 2001).

[2] M. Riordan, The Hunting of the Quark: A True Story of Modern Physics (Simon and Schuster, 1987).

[3] A. T. Saracevic, "Silicon Valley: It's Where Brains Meet Bucks," San Francisco Chronicle, 23 Oct 05.

[4] P. Haugen, Biology: Decade by Decade (Facts On File, 2007).