APS News

Briefing Explains how Accelerator Can Boost Industry

By Nadia Ramlagan

What can the International Linear Collider (ILC) provide to US industry? This question was addressed at a recent Capitol Hill meeting of the Linear Collider Forum of America (LCFOA), a non-profit organization founded in 2005 to facilitate partnership between US industry and government in the design, component manufacturing, and location of the ILC. After opening comments from LCFOA president Ken Olsen, ILC Program Director Robert Kephart of Fermilab spoke about the importance of the ILC to physical science research, especially high energy physics.

“Discoveries at the ILC are expected to revolutionize our understanding of the fundamental nature of the universe in which we live. Previous high-energy physics projects have also produced far-reaching practical applications and technologies,” said Kephart.

Kephart emphasized that fundamental questions in particle physics remain on the energy, cosmic, and intensity frontiers. The future electron-positron collider could help solve the puzzle of how particles acquire mass, the nature of dark energy, or the properties of neutrinos, to name a few. The proposed ILC design features two opposing linear particle accelerators, each 12 kilometers long.

The discussion quickly shifted to economic and technological benefits deriving from the ILC, with presentations by the Director of the ILC Americas Regional Team Mike Harrison, and also by  Paul Grannis of Stony Brook University. The speakers focused on innovative ILC particle accelerator technology, particularly Superconducting Radio Frequency (SCRF)-based systems such as cavities and cryomodules.

Cavities are used to accelerate charged particles to high energies by applying a radiofrequency electromagnetic field to the particle beam. SCRF cavities are made from pure niobium chilled to near absolute zero temperatures. Unlike traditionally used copper cavities, SCRF cavities conduct electric current with almost no loss of energy, ensuring that the majority of electrical energy goes into accelerating the beam, rather than into heating up the accelerating structures themselves.

In the past decade, physicists, engineers, and technicians continue to work on the challenging task of creating the ultra-smooth and polished niobium surfaces needed to retain superconductivity in the presence of large radiofrequency magnetic fields. SCRF research and development programs in the US include the Operational Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) at Oak Ridge in Tennessee, and the Continuous Electron Beam Accelerator Facility (CEBAF) at Jefferson Lab in Virginia.

While development occurs at laboratories, there is an ongoing effort to shift production and processing of cavities and other critical ILC components to American industry. There is much industry concern, as only one small US business is currently certified to manufacture SCRF cavities. The Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories use SCRF cavities manufactured by European companies.

There is also impetus to house the ILC on US soil. The Department of Energy’s Office of Science has supported the ILC as a scientific priority and has stated that Fermilab is the US candidate site for the Collider. After an overview of the ILC research and development plan by the Project Manager of the Americas Regional Team, Marc Ross, the meeting closed with statements by LCFOA board of director companies. 

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Science Writing Intern: Nadia Ramlagan