A team of UK scientists has used, for the first time, an extremely short-pulse laser to accelerate high-energy electrons over an incredibly short distance. Current accelerators can be hundreds of metres long, this is just a millimetre long.
Earlier laser-driven accelerators were inefficient, accelerating the electrons to a wide range of energies. But scientists who wish to use these electron beams to research materials science – such as the structure of viruses and moon rock – need the electrons to have the same energy. The team of scientists, led by Imperial College London and including scientists from the CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the University of Strathclyde and University of California, Los Angeles, has shown for the first time that a laser-driven accelerator can produce a beam of electrons with a narrow range of energies. The results of this experiment will be published in Nature on 30 September 2004.