Particle Accelerators — Bob Cywinski — 9th February 2015

bob_cywinski2Bob Cywinski, or to give him his full title, Professor Robert Cywinski’s present­a­tion, entitled “Particle Accelerators: From fun­da­mental phys­ics to cancer ther­apy” began with a brief his­tory of particle accel­er­ator tech­no­logy, start­ing with the pion­eer­ing exper­i­ments of Rutherford and Cockcroft in the first quarter of the 20th cen­tury, lead­ing to Lawrence’s devel­op­ment of the cyclo­tron, con­struc­tion of the first syn­chro­tron, and con­clud­ing with the massive 28km dia­meter high energy  Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Although particle accel­er­at­ors are usu­ally asso­ci­ated with high energy phys­ics, we learned that of the 15,000 accel­er­at­ors cur­rently in oper­a­tion only about 100 are used in this field. The others find sci­entific, tech­no­lo­gical, med­ical and indus­trial uses that are essen­tial to sup­port our modern soci­ety. These uses are as diverse as ster­il­isa­tion, sur­face modi­fic­a­tion for harder cor­ro­sion res­ist­ant mater­i­als, neut­ron and x-ray pro­duc­tion for the study of matter at the atomic level, the pro­duc­tion of radioiso­topes for med­ical ima­ging, and even for the proton ther­apy treat­ment of can­cers, par­tic­u­larly in sens­it­ive regions of the body.

It is these latter med­ical uses that are now posing par­tic­u­lar chal­lenges for accel­er­ator devel­op­ment. Bob described how phys­i­cists at the University of Huddersfield are devel­op­ing a new type of com­pact, and there­fore rel­at­ively cheaper, particle accel­er­ator, the Fixed Field Alternating Gradient (FFAG) Accelerator to meet these new  chal­lenges. The team and their inter­na­tional col­lab­or­at­ors have recently and suc­cess­fully designed, built and com­mis­sioned EMMA, an £8M pro­to­type FFAG, demon­strat­ing that this new tech­no­logy does actu­ally work. The next stage is to secure fund­ing for proton FFAGs. Small table top machines could be used in hos­pit­als to provide radioiso­topes for PET and SPECT ima­ging close to the patients, hence mit­ig­at­ing prob­lems of trans­port­ing  short-lived iso­topes, while larger machines could provide high energy proton or carbon beams for cancer ther­apy.

Ultimately even more power­ful FFAG accel­er­at­ors could drive accel­er­a­tion driven sub­crit­ical nuc­lear react­ors for both the pro­duc­tion of energy and the trans­mu­ta­tion of radi­otoxic nuc­lear waste and plutonium from con­ven­tional nuc­lear react­ors.

It is clear that particle accel­er­at­ors are going to play an increas­ingly import­ant role in all of our lives.

A thor­oughly enjoy­able morn­ing and Bob should be con­grat­u­lated for giving us such an inter­est­ing and stim­u­lat­ing ses­sion.

We look for­ward yet another talk from Bob.