Center for Bright Beams awarded $22M to boost accelerator science

UChicago a partner in continuing Cornell-led center to transform electron beam technology

A collaboration of researchers led by Cornell University has been awarded $22.5 million from the National Science Foundation to continue gaining the fundamental understanding needed to transform the brightness of electron beams available to science, medicine and industry.

­The Center for Bright Beams (CBB), an NSF Science and Technology Center, was created in 2016 with an initial $23 million award to Cornell and partner institutions, including the University of Chicago and affiliated Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. The center integrates accelerator science with condensed matter physics, materials science and surface science in order to advance particle accelerator technologies, which play a key role in creating new breakthroughs in everything from medicine to electronics to particle physics.

The center’s goals are to improve the performance and reduce the cost of accelerator technologies around the world and develop new research instruments that transform the frontiers of biology, materials science, condensed matter physics, particle physics and nuclear physics, as well as new manufacturing tools that enable chip makers to continue shrinking the features of integrated circuits.

“Currently, all of these scientific and industrial instruments are limited by the brightness of their beams,” said Ritchie Patterson, director of the Center for Bright Beams, and the Helen T. Edwards Professor of Physics at Cornell. “CBB is the only center in the world that brings together an interdisciplinary approach to address critical challenges limiting accelerator science. This renewed funding will help us build on our successes to date, which have benefited enormously from our collaborative approach.”

The center is based at Cornell’s Laboratory for Accelerator-based ScienceS and Education (CLASSE), as well as scientists from seven other universities and three national labs.

‘A beam in every basement’

For more than a century, major advances in physics, chemistry and biology have resulted from scattering, imaging, spectroscopy and colliding beam experiments. But in order to see something new you must do something new, and these experiments are now becoming increasingly dependent on time-resolved information which allows for such things as true movies of molecular machines at work. Other cutting-edge methods dependent on advances in particle beams include beams for tumor treatment, electron microscopes capable of imaging individual atoms, instruments for wafer metrology, and the Large Hadron Collider.

Since 2016, CBB’s research has resulted in an electron source with ten times smaller size and divergence than common sources in use today. This will open new pathways for drug design by allowing biologists who study the structure and dynamics of single molecules to reduce their data collection time by 90%.

The center has also created new methods for beam acceleration that match today’s performance but are vastly simpler to operate. CBB’s high-field superconducting radio frequency cavities will cut the construction costs of the largest accelerators by up to billions of dollars by reducing the length of tunnels and the number of cavities. Relaxed cavity operating temperatures will simplify cryogenics, making beams more accessible to universities and industry, or “a beam in every basement.”

“Roughly 30,000 accelerators are operating for discovery sciences and industrial and medical uses today. They are limited by the intensity of particle beams, sizes and costs,” said center member Young-Kee Kim, the Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago. “But with a deeper understanding of the fundamental science behind particle beams and beam acceleration, we can address critical challenges limiting them. The CBB’s vision is to create two orders of magnitude brighter electron beams, and to make these beams more accessible to universities and industry.”

“CBB has brought together a remarkably broad palette of researchers encompassing scientists from physics, physical chemistry, materials research, and accelerator science—an unusually diverse team that has the necessary skills and long-range vision to take on the challenge of helping the next-generation of accelerators come to fruition, with impact on many fields,” said Steven J. Sibener, the Carl William Eisendrath Distinguished Service Professor of Chemistry and the James Franck Institute at the University of Chicago, and a co-leader of CBB’s next-generation superconducting radio frequency materials research. “My role has been profoundly rewarding for my research group and for me personally, introducing us to new research directions in advanced superconducting materials design that will ultimately lead to the innovation of lower-cost accelerators with greatly improved brightness and performance.”

There are roughly 30,000 industrial and medical accelerators in use today, with annual sales of $3.5 billion. David Muller, CBB’s director of knowledge transfer in Phase I, and the Samuel B. Eckert Professor of Engineering in the School of Applied and Engineering Physics, said the center’s research aims to increase that number as brighter beams bring new capabilities.

“With this new round of funding, CBB will pursue the most productive research to achieve even higher brightness,” Muller said, “and we will ready these methods for accelerators being used by chip manufacturers and industrial leaders, as well as smaller research institutions.”

While CBB continues to make significant advances in the particle accelerator frontier, its greatest impact may be the result of educating future scientists in electron beam technology.

“These large-scale colliders, intense X-ray sources, and electron microscopes are essential tools for science and industry, but the U.S. educates few students to understand the bright electron beams on which they depend for success,” said Melissa Hines, associate director of CBB and professor of chemistry (A&S). “Our graduate students are helping to bridge this gap, and approximately half of CBB’s students are in areas that the Department of Energy has identified as areas of critical need. Our most important output is almost certainly going to be the large number of graduate students and postdocs, most of whom will go off to have a big impact in a variety of different fields.”  

CBB also includes Arizona State University; Brigham Young University; Northern Illinois University; University of California, Los Angeles; University of Chicago; University of Florida; University of New Mexico; Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and affiliates at other institutions.

—Adapted from a news article by Rick Ryan published by Cornell University.