The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation awarded $13.5 million to UCLA, Stanford University and international partners to turn an innovative particle accelerator design dubbed the “accelerator-on-a-chip” into a fully functional and scalable working prototype. UCLA will receive $800,000 over five years. This laser-driven particle accelerator could have a major impact on the physics community and on science by providing new particle and photon sources that are less expensive to build and will address current infrastructure challenges and provide broad access to the scientific community.

At UCLA, Pietro Musumeci, professor of physics, will be responsible for testing the miniaturized laser-driven accelerator structures in the on-campus Pegasus Laboratory, a state-of-the-science electron source capable of generating the ultra-small and very high quality electrons required to fit the miniature apertures of these novel accelerators.

The project brings together world renowned experts in accelerator physics, laser physics, nano-photonics and nano-fabrication to develop a functional, scalable prototype accelerator within five years that will lead to electron and X-ray sources that are orders of magnitude smaller than current particle accelerators.

For the past 75 years, particle accelerators have been an essential tool for physics, chemistry, biology and medicine, leading to multiple Nobel-Prize winning discoveries.

“This project presents the opportunity to revolutionize the way we build particle accelerators, taking advantage of the fast-pace progress of the last few decades in nanotechnologies,” Musumeci said. “The promise is cheaper, compact, efficient particle accelerators — not just for high energy physics large-scale projects, but for university-accessible small-scale laboratories with applications in industry, medical, defense and all other scientific disciplines, such as chemistry, material science and biology.”

“The impact of shrinking accelerators can be compared to the evolution of computers that once occupied entire rooms and now can be worn around your wrist,” said Peter Hommelhoff, professor of physics at Friedrich-Alexander University and co-principal investigator on the project.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation invests in basic research to fuel innovation that can have a significant impact on future generations. The foundation is one of the world’s largest private funders in science, including scientific research and technology development.

“The accelerator-on-a-chip has terrific scientists pursuing a great idea,” said Robert Kirshner, chief program officer of science at the foundation. “This research is risky, but the Moore Foundation is not afraid of risk when a novel approach holds the potential for a big advance in science.”