Scientists create “Swiss army knife” for electron beams

Pocket accelerator combines four functions in one device 

DESY scientists have created a miniature particle accelerator for electrons that can perform four different functions at the push of a button. The experimental device is driven by a Terahertz radiation source and can accelerate, compress, focus and analyse electron bunches in a beam. Its active structures measure just a few millimetres across. The developers from the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) present their “Segmented Terahertz Electron Accelerator and Manipulator” (STEAM) in the journal Nature Photonics. Terahertz radiation is located between microwaves and the infrared in the electromagnetic spectrum.

One of the central features of the device is its perfect timing with the electron beam. The scientists achieve this by using the same laser pulse to generate an electron bunch and to drive the device. “To do this, we take an infrared laser pulse and split it up,” explains first author Dongfang Zhang from the group of Franz Kärtner at CFEL. “Both parts are fed into nonlinear crystals that change the laser wavelength: For the generation of an electron bunch the wavelength is shifted into the ultraviolet and directed onto a photocathode where it releases a bunch of electrons. For STEAM the wavelength is shifted into the Terahertz regime. The relative timing of the two parts of the original laser pulse only depends on the length of the path they take and can be controlled very precisely.”

This way, the scientists can control with ultra-high precision, what part of the Terahertz wave an electron bunch hits when it enters the device. Depending on the arrival time of the electron bunch, STEAM performs its different functions. “For instance, a bunch that hits the negative part of the Terahertz electric field is accelerated,” explains Zhang. “Other parts of the wave lead to focusing or defocusing of the bunch or to a compression by a factor of ten or so.” While compression means the electron bunch gets shorter in the direction of flight, focusing means it shrinks perpendicular to the direction of flight.

>Read more on the PETRA III at DESY website

Image: The mini accelerator STEAM (centre) is driven by Terahertz radiation (yellow, coming from both sides). It can accelerator, compress, focus and analyse the incident electron bunches (blue).
Credit: DESY, Lucid Berlin