A new facility for using protons to take microscopic images has been commissioned at the ring accelerator of the GSI Helmholtzzentrum fur
The proton microscope was developed by an international collaboration consisting of
Protons, like neutrons, are the building blocks of atomic nuclei. Similar to x-rays, they can be used to radiograph objects, generating images of them. Protons are able to penetrate hot dense matter that can't be examined with light or x-rays. This technology, also known as "proton radiography," was originally invented at
In their first experiments, researchers used a proton beam accelerated to an energy of 4.5 gigaelectronvolts (more than 98 percent of the speed of light) by the GSI accelerator facility. A special setup of four quadrupole magnets served as optics to magnify objects with the beam. Initially, they radiographed different items like sets of wires with varying sizes and a wristwatch.
Scientists have succeeded in resolving objects and structures down to a size of 30 micrometers or one thousandth of an inch. The GSI facility, called the Proton Microscope for FAIR, or PRIOR, achieved resolutions comparable to existing facilities in the U.S. or
The study of plasma is of particular interest to scientists because plasma is found in stars or gas planets like Jupiter. This state of matter can be generated in the laboratory with lasers or strong electrical discharges for short intervals of time. Because protons can penetrate plasmas, they offer unique possibilities to measure the properties of plasma with instruments like PRIOR.
"Combining the experience of this international collaboration has proven to be very productive," said
"Next to the research on events in space, the technique also has very practical applications", said Dmitry Varentsov from GSI's department Plasma Physics and Detectors. "For example one could radiograph running engines or diagnose and treat tumors with it. We want to explore all these opportunities."
The proton microscope will also play an important role at the FAIR accelerator facility. GSI will serve as injector for FAIR. The new FAIR accelerators will provide protons with even higher energies improving the possibilities for experiments. After the completion of FAIR the PRIOR setup will be moved to the new facility. The development of this technique is being extended to the use of electrons and will be utilized for applications at MaRIE.
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