Smaller, affordable particle accelerators for security

Tech-X is using high performance computing (HPC) at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Hartree Centre to help speed up the arrival of smaller, more versatile particle accelerators.

Airport Security


Particle accelerator technology has the potential to revolutionise areas such as cancer treatment and national security, but current size and cost barriers prevent wider industrial adoption. ​The development of smaller, more adaptable particle accelerators hinges on the ability to accurately simulate particle beams because well-defined, accurate beams are critical in order to rapidly prototype experimental accelerator designs. Making particle acceleration technology smaller, however, can be challenging – even in simulation – due to the quality of the accelerator beams required. Conventional large accelerators create a high quality beam that scientists are currently unable to reproduce in the equivalent smaller devices. Until recently, the models used to simulate such technology were limited by the use of approximations in the calculations, which reduces the accuracy of their results, producing a beam of insufficient quality.


Tech-X is an HPC consultancy that specialises in the simulation of plasma and electromagnetic phenomena on leadership class computers. The company has a base at the Sci-Tech Daresbury campus alongside STFC’s Hartree Centre and the Accelerator Science and Technology Centre (ASTeC). Combining these key research areas has allowed Tech-X to model and demonstrate new possibilities within particle driven plasma acceleration. The access to compute intensive resources has enabled Tech-X researchers to use fewer approximations in their models for more accurate results, which in turn yields higher quality beams in simulations. The project demonstrates how open source software can be used to create 3D, stereo simulations and models which explore data more efficiently, maximising the potential of the Hartree Centre’s visualisation hardware to keep costs low and efficiency high.


For businesses, this will add value by breaking down the size and cost barriers of accelerator-based R&D. Companies that might have previously considered these barriers too high to enter into such research could then develop and improve products at a more advanced level. Further, accelerator technology of a more versatile size will also provide social and economic benefits by enabling the development of more convenient and portable medical imaging capabilities to provide cheaper treatments with better outcomes. There is also the potential to develop more efficient security scanners which would make flights more secure and reduce processing times for users of airports, international train stations and other high security establishments.

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