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A Timeline of Major Particle Accelerators

A Thesis

In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science from Michigan State University.


Progress in particle physics and the resulting gradual unpacking of the fundamental properties of the universe has historically marched in lock-step with progress in particle accelerators. Progress in particle accelerators is measured by the acceleration of particle beams to higher energies, the utilization of new technology and application of new ideas. The first accelerators in the early 1930's utilized direct voltage to accelerate ions to energies of a few hundred keV, resulting in the first induced nuclear disintegrations in 1932. Voltage breakdown limited these first accelerators to less than 1 MeV, and new ideas were needed to push past the 1 MeV barrier. The concept of resonant acceleration provided this impetus in the 1940's by the application of RF electric fields oscillating in resonance with the particles passing through a series of accelerating gaps. This led from the linear accelerator to the cyclotron, where another seemingly impassable energy barrier was reached at approximately 25 MeV.

Then came the principle of phase stability, which allowed the invention of the synchrocyclotron and synchrotron, and the energy barrier was pushed back to 2 GeV by the early 1950's. In the 1950's came alternating gradient focusing, allowing a dramatic reduction in magnet size in large accelerators, and the barrier moved again to 400 GeV. Then came the concept of colliding beams in the 1960's, and the energy frontier moved dramatically forward. We are limited in the 21st century only by the prohibitive cost of building new accelerators, and the question of where to build them.

A. R. Steere (2005) (Master's Thesis)


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