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U.K. Scientists Take New Accelerator on Test Run

A new type of particle accelerator, which promises to provide particle beams more cheaply and efficiently than existing types for applications ranging from cancer treatment to nuclear power, passed a major milestone this week when it circulated a beam all the way round its circumference and accelerated it to 18 megaelectron volts.

The accelerator, known as EMMA (Electron Machine with Many Applications) and built at the Daresbury Laboratory in the United Kingdom, is a proof-of-principle device of a design with the catchy name of a nonscaling fixed-field alternating-gradient accelerator, or nonscaling FFAG. Such machines don't have the accelerating power of CERN's Large Hadron Collider. But their use of smaller, simpler magnets allows them to produce particle beams that are more affordable for applications such as proton beam cancer therapy, scanning cargo for explosives, and inherently safe nuclear reactors known as accelerator-driven systems.

"Now that we know that the basic idea works, we can go on to develop the applications of this new technology," says team member Ken Peach, director of the John Adams Institute for Accelerator Science at the University of Oxford and Royal Holloway University of London.