In “what do you mean you reversed the polarity on the neutron flow?” news, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have created an atom smasher small enough to fit on an average kitchen dinette from Ikea. Wait, what?
The Berkeley Labs invention is, not surprisingly, pretty genius. They shoot powerful laser pulses through plasma, which builds up electric fields and leaves a wake of waves. Wim Leemans, who heads the project, uses a metaphor of surfing. Some of the electrons get caught in front of the waves and ride them, and then can the team can accelerate the waves behind the “surfer” to push it along faster. They also use helium to make the plasma more dense, which makes it slower at first so the surfers can catch the wave, and then they speed it up further. Shut up. You had me at surfing.
This new bite-sized atom-smasher could be used to do the same sort of fundamental physics work that the LHC and CERN does, but on a smaller scale. They can also be used as “sources of intensely bright beams of light” for investigating new materials, biological structures, and green chemistry. Or just tear open a rift in the spacetime continuum from the comfort of your own home.
Somebody really sat down and said, “this is a good idea. What could possibly go wrong?” Residents of California’s east bay had better stock up on iodine …