Proton-driven plasma wakefield acceleration - a new route to a TeV e+e-collider

Project: Research

Project Details


"Over the last fifty years, accelerators of ever increasing energy and size have allowed us to probe the fundamental structure of the physical world. This has culminated in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Geneva, a 27-km long accelerator which hopes to discover new particles such as the Higgs Boson or new phenomena such as Supersymmetry. Using current accelerator technology, a next collider such as a linear electron-positron collider would 30-50 km long which would require immense investment. As an alternative, we are pursuing a new ultra-compact technology which would allow a reduction by about a factor of ten in length and hence would reduce the cost by a significant fraction.

The idea presented here is to impact a high-energy proton beam, such as those at CERN, into a plasma. The free, negatively-charged electrons in the plasma are knocked out of their position by the protons, but are then attracted back by the positively-charged ions, creating a high-gradient electric wakefield and an oscillating motion is started by the plasma electrons. Experiments have already been carried out impacting lasers or an electron beam onto a plasma and accelerating gradients have been observed which are 1000 times higher than conventional accelerators. Given the much higher initial energy of available proton beams, it is anticipated that the electric fields it creates in a plasma could accelerate electrons in the wakefield up to the teraelectron-volts scale required for a future collider, but in a single stage and with a length of a few km. Such a collider is, however, many years in the future and test experiments are first needed.

A first proof-of-principle experiment will be performed at CERN over the next 5 years. The experiment will use a high-energy proton beam to impact on a plasma cell of about 10 m and measure the energy change in a bunch of electrons which will travel behind the proton beam. Observing significant energy changes in the electrons would demonstrate the concept of this form of acceleration which has so far only been studied in simulation.

The UK has seven groups (ASTeC, Central Laser Facility, Cockcroft Institute, Imperial College, John Adams Institute, Strathclyde and UCL) in the collaboration preparing for this test experiment in CERN. We propose a programme to answer various technical issues and develop a wide-range of instrumentation which will the allow us to successfully build the test experiment. A crucial part is being able to build a plasma cell with a uniform density over lengths much longer than previously tried. We will also design the electron particle source to be fired into the plasma at exactly the right time so as to feel the largest possible accelerating gradient in the wakefield created by the proton beam. To determine the success of the experiment, we will design diagnostic tools which will measure the size of the wakefield and the energy and spatial profile of the electron beam after it has been accelerated in the plasma. Finally, our results will improve simulations of plasma wakefields to give us more confidence in our expectations of a larger-scale experiment and help us best optimise its layout and capabilities.

If successful, this experiment will lead to a further larger-scale project to accelerate bunches of electrons of small spatial extent with high particle numbers and ultimately a new form of acceleration which could lead to future, energy-frontier particle physics experiments. This technique has the potential to radically alter the frontier of high energy physics with accelerators as performant as currently planned or required, but at a tenth of the length and hence cost. With the significantly larger acceleration gradients and smaller spatial extent, plasma-based accelerator technology could also lead to vastly smaller synchrotron light sources which probe the structure of e.g. proteins and table-top accelerators of lower energy for use in hospitals or industry."

Key findings

We have continued the development of the photon acceleration diagnostic instrument. It has been refined to allow full integration with the 10-metre long plasma cell that will be used in the funded AWAKE experiment at CERN. This has been done by incorporating the instrument into the engineering design. It will be deployed in the second stage of the project, starting 2017/18, STFC funding permitting.
Effective start/end date1/10/1430/09/15


  • STFC Science and Technology Facilities Council: £4,522.00


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