A particle accelerator propels charged particles, such as protons or electrons, close to the speed of light. They are then smashed either onto a target or against other particles circulating in the opposite direction. By studying these collisions, physicists are able to probe the world of the infinitely small.
How does an accelerator work?
Accelerators use electromagnetic fields to accelerate and steer particles. Radiofrequency cavities boost the particle beams, while magnets focus the beams and bend their trajectory. In a circular accelerator, the particles repeat the same circuit for as long as necessary, getting an energy boost at each turn. In theory, the energy could be increased over and over again. However, the more energy the particles have, the more powerful the magnetic fields have to be to keep them in their circular orbit. A linear accelerator, on the contrary, is exclusively formed of accelerating structures since the particles do not need to be deflected, but they only benefit from a single acceleration pass. In this case, increasing the energy means increasing the length of the accelerator.