The researches find that the a new method which can double the energy of a proton beam produced by laser-based particle accelerators. Because The breakthrough could lead to more compact; cheaper equipment that could be useful for many applications, including proton therapy. Therefore Proton therapy involves firing a beam of accelerated protons at cancerous tumors; killing them through irradiation. But the equipment needed is so large and expensive that it only exists in a few locations worldwide.
Beam of accelerated protons
Modern high-powered lasers offer the potential to reduce the equipment’s size and cost; since they can accelerate particles over a much shorter distance than traditional accelerators reducing the distance required from kilometers to meters. The problem is; despite efforts from researchers around the world, laser generated proton beams are currently not energetic enough.
But now, the Swedish researchers present a new method which yields a doubling of the energy a major leap forward. The standard approach involves firing a laser pulse at a thin metallic foil; with the interaction resulting in a beam of highly charged protons. The new method involves instead first splitting the laser into two less intense pulses; before firing both at the foil from two different angles simultaneously.
Interaction resulting in a beam
When the two pulses collide on the foil, the resultant electromagnetic fields heat the foil extremely efficiently. The technique results in higher energy protons whilst using the same initial laser energy as the standard approach. The unique advantage of proton therapy is its precision in targeting cancer cells, killing them without injuring healthy cells or organs close by.
The method is therefore crucial for treating deep-seated tumors, located in the brain or spine, for example. The higher energy the proton beam has, the further into the body it can penetrate to fight cancer cells. Although the researchers’ achievement in doubling the energy of the proton beams represents a great breakthrough, the end goal is still a long way off.
Resultant electromagnetic fields
Accelerated protons are not only interesting for cancer treatment. They can be used to investigate and analyze different materials, and to make radioactive material less harmful. They are also important for the space industry. Energetic protons constitute a large part of cosmic radiation, which damages satellites and other space equipment.
Producing energetic protons in the lab allows researchers to study how such damage occurs, and to develop new materials which can better withstand the stresses of space travel. Together with research colleague Evangelos Siminos at the University of Gothenburg, Chalmers researchers Julian Ferri and Tünde Fülöp used numerical simulations to show the feasibility of the method. Their next step is to conduct experiments in collaboration with Lund University.