Physics department to acquire new particle accelerator in April

The Geneseo physics department will soon usher in its first new nuclear accelerator in the last 30 years.

Geneseo was able to afford this new piece of equipment partially through a $248,000 Federal Department of Education grant. The rest of the cost, totaling $561,000, will be paid by the College over the next three years through a state loan.

Kenneth Levison, vice president of administration and finance at the College, further explained the reasoning behind this purchase. "We are delighted to have received this grant, and are confident that the physics department will be able to maintain its preeminence in purchasing this new accelerator," he said. Levison went on to explain that a $300,000 renovation of the basement of Greene Hall is also in the works to coincide with the arrival of the accelerator.

A particle or nuclear accelerator is a complex and powerful piece of equipment, used by physicists to propel electrically charged particles at high speeds and to contain them. It resembles a tunnel, and uses a high voltage terminal to accelerate charged particles to extreme speeds, usually to generate some sort of collision.

Dr. Charles Freeman, an associate professor in the physics department, is very excited about the arrival of this state-of-the-art tool. "It's great that we're able to get a new accelerator. With our old one, we spent more time tinkering with it to make it work than we ever did doing experiments." The old particle accelerator was installed in Greene at some point in the 1970s and was becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. "We will now have the opportunity to do a lot more actual research," added Freeman.

Despite that fact that both the new machine and its predecessor are classified as "Van de Graaff" type accelerators, there are many differences between them. The new one is able to use 1.7 megavolts of energy in order to accelerate particles to twice that amount. Due to its design, the old accelerator was only able to project particles at 2 megavolts. And while the old model could only be focused to a millimeter or so, this new model will be able to move a beam of charged hydrogen or helium particles with a precision of 10 micrometers. For scale, the width of a human hair is 70 micrometers.

The new machine will also be able to perform particle induced X-ray emission (PIXE), which will allow researchers to discover the elemental composition of almost any test subject. PIXE analysis is currently of interest to several departments, including biology and geology.

In cooperation with the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) stationed at the University of Rochester, the College will use this new tool to help with the diagnosis and calibration of detectors used in inertial confinement fusion (ICF). LLE has been working with Geneseo's particle accelerator for over a decade in its effort to perfect a form of fusion which could make fusion a viable, cost-effective energy source. LLE is widely acknowledged as one of the foremost laboratories experimenting in ICF in the entire United States.

In the summer of 2006, representatives of the SUNY Oswego physics department dismantled and shipped the old Geneseo accelerator back to Oswego. Because Oswego has an identical model, it will recycle the spare parts.

The new accelerator will be installed in the basement of Greene Hall by the end of April.