Nanoscale endoscopes will be able to destroy tumors in the body.

Scientists at Darmstadt Technical University in Germany have designed such a small particle accelerator that could be produced directly on a silicon chip.

Extreme shrinkage to the nanosize makes its production cheaper. Handling devices based on the new accelerator will be easier. It will help expand the capabilities of various industrial applications and medical devices.

The study was published by the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

Accelerator miniaturization

In the accelerators, the particles are of very high velocity. They are accelerated by a strong electric field and keep the magnetic fields in the desired direction. When colliding with other particles, they may break down, creating new particles, sometimes even those that we have not yet known and exist in the universe in stable form.

These scientific devices tend to be huge and expensive. Until recently, conventional televisions and CRT monitors have been expanded to some extent as smaller accelerators.

Now come the miniature accelerators. They can be created by lithographic methods directly on the silicon chip. Instead of a microwave generator, a laser is used as a power source, and all metal parts used in existing accelerators are replaced with silicon parts.

Nanoscale electron beam

Since silicon can be loaded with a larger electric field, acceleration can also increase dramatically compared to classic. This means that accelerated electrons get the same amount of energy on a much shorter path.

With such small dimensions, the electron tunnel has a width of only 420 nanometers, so their flow must be extremely focused. However, conventional magnetic fields are not sufficient for this, so commercially available lasers are used to maintain electrons in the necessary formation.

By 2020, miniature accelerators should be produced on the basis of this proposal, from which 1 megaelectron volt (1 MeV = 106 eV) electrons will flow. For comparison, a large hadron accelerator (LHC) in Cerne, Switzerland, charges particles to energy in the order of TeV (1 TeV = 1012 eV).

Exact tumor destroyer

A miniature accelerator can be used, for example, in medicine in conjunction with an endoscope. Using it, the electron stream would irradiate tumors deep in the body.

X-rays are produced by abrupt braking of accelerated electrons, such as when impacting a metal plate. A miniature inexpensive source of continuous X-ray beams is useful, for example, in photolithographic processes in the semiconductor industry.

The new technology will enable cheap mass production of miniature particle accelerators. They could then be overwhelmed almost everywhere. In particular, universities that could create their own accelerating laboratories would welcome this.