Laser technology to help take Large Hadron Collider to next level

29 November 2016

Pioneering laser technology could boost the performance of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN to new levels of efficiency, helping unlock some of science’s greatest mysteries going back to the `Big Bang’.  

The technology for the surface modification of metals known as LESS (Laser Engineered Surface Structures) for this specific application is the result of a collaboration between the University of Dundee and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). 

Steel before it has been re-engineered using lasers
(Credit: University of Dundee)

Dundee and STFC have now entered into partnership with CERN to employ the new technology, which is aimed at clearing the `electron cloud’ that develops in the LHC and limits the range of experiments that it can handle.

Professor Amin Abdolvand, Chair of Functional Materials & Photonics at the University of Dundee explains, “Large particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider suffer from a fundamental limitation known as the `electron cloud’.  This cloud of negative particles under certain conditions may degrade the performance of the primary proton beams that circulate in the accelerator, which is central to its core experiments.

“Current efforts to limit these effects involve applying composite metal or amorphous carbon coatings to the inner surfaces of the LHC vacuum chambers. These are expensive and time consuming processes that are implemented under vacuum.”

In the frame of the High Luminosity LHC project, CERN is preparing to upgrade the collider from 2019 and a new solution is needed to reduce the electron cloud problem to much lower levels than are expected as the upgraded collider will use proton beams of double the intensity of the current ones.

Steel after it has been re-engineered using lasers
(Credit: University of Dundee)

The LESS method has shown potential to reduce the electron cloud to unprecedentedly low levels. It involves using lasers to manipulate the surface of metals, and relies on understanding how different metal surfaces react when they are subjected to varying levels of laser fluence or intensity.

Tests have shown that it is possible to reformulate the surface of the metals in the LHC vacuum chambers, to a design that under a microscope resembles the type of sound padding seen in music studios. The surface can trap electrons, keeping the chambers clear of the cloud. Initial tests at the Super Proton Synchrotron, the LHC injector, have shown the LESS method is very effective at controlling the electron yield, as electron clouds have been fully eradicated.

Peter McIntosh, Deputy Head of STFC’s Accelerator Science and Technology Centre ASTeC said, “The LESS method should yield many successful applications in the future; this is just one opportunity that will have a dramatically positive impact for the LHC and its High Luminosity configuration. 

“Through close working interaction between ASTeC vacuum scientists and Dundee University laser specialists, a real breakthrough in suppression of secondary emission yield performance has been accomplished, which could have widespread implications for high electro-magnetic field environments, where breakdown limitations are of particular concern, such as for sensor systems and applications in satellite and aerospace technologies.

“We expect it will prove to be an innovative solution for CERN.”

Professor Lucio Rossi, Project Leader of the High Luminosity LHC, said, “If successful, this method will allow us to remove fundamental limitations of the LHC and reach the parameters which are needed for the high luminosity upgrade in an easier and less expensive way. This will boost the experimental program by increasing the number of collisions in the LHC by a factor over the present machine configuration.”

Michael Benedikt, head of the Future Circular Collider study at CERN, said “The LESS solution could be easily integrated in the design of future high-intensity proton accelerators; the method is scalable from small samples to kilometre-long beam lines.”

Media Contact

Corinne Mosese, STFC Media Officer
01793 442870

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About CERN

What is the universe made of? How did it start? Physicists at CERN are seeking answers, using some of the world's most powerful particle accelerators

At CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. They use the world's largest and most complex scientific instruments to study the basic constituents of matter – the fundamental particles. The particles are made to collide together at close to the speed of light. The process gives the physicists clues about how the particles interact, and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature.

The instruments used at CERN are purpose-built particle accelerators and detectors. Accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before the beams are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets. Detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

Founded in 1954, the CERN laboratory sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. It was one of Europe's first joint ventures and now has 22 member states.

ASTeC - Accelerator Science and Technology Centre

ASTeC is the UK's centre of expertise for accelerator science and technology and studies all aspects of the science and technology of charged particle accelerators, ranging from large scale international and national research facilities through to specialised industrial and medical applications.

ASTeC staff pursue world class research and development programmes on behalf of STFC and ASTeC is also a partner in the Cockcroft Institute with the Universities of Lancaster, Liverpool and Manchester. Additional collaborators include John Adams Institute, other HEIs and international Laboratories. 

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000