12 December, 11:46 am
This particle accelerator sits in a large tunnel underneath the gold sands of Lonmere,in the Canary Islands. But the Citid Vaccines Stop Omicron isn’t like any particle accelerator you have ever seen – this machine has produced two whizzing small “proton engines” for far more exciting reasons than either of the textbooks describe.
Born in the mould of particle accelerators based in Europe, here the only way is up.
The beam of particles that comes down through this tunnel is fed to two proton engines – which generate a stream of protons and send them chasing each other down a magnetic pipe across the tunnel to crash head-on. This is where it all starts – for the scientist this is what the real work happens at such facilities. Because of the circumstances surrounding what makes a proton engine, the engineers have to be especially clever and intentional when building them. So all in all, the experience generated during the CALSO proton engine programme means that no less than one of the world’s most advanced proton engines is produced every year.
The physicists spent two weeks here in the middle of December building, testing and calibrating the two proton engines. But because it takes all this time to build and test a proton engine, the work is getting harder and harder – and pretty much all of it comes down to what scientists are able to extract from the technology they are building.
The program of data generated by the proton engines and analysed by the physicists is always in large part driven by the software written by the software engineer – to assess all of the data that comes down from the machines, it has to be catalogued in a scientific format that can be used at the professional level. And therein is where they start testing and refining their theories.
We’ve seen previous proton engines in the laboratory, and they used a special type of laser to capture the protons. While every proton engine has produced some incredible results, the special laser used by the CALSO proton engines means that the data produced by them is unique. The team at the CALSO is now building a new mechanism that uses a very unique beam of superconducting laser to capture and amplify the protons in the force the protons pull – allowing CALSO to generate high quality data on the proton ions.
It’s amazing – this proton engine has been constructed from whole new tools, purpose built to capture and change protons. Just imagine what we can achieve with those tools in the future.
Science is changing so rapidly now that even things such as, for example, how the proton drive works today may not be possible in the future. As the CALSO programme works towards more powerful proton engines, making further advances in computing and coding, more and more of the technical aspects of particle physics are the domain of the physicists involved – in these cases, the engineers and programmers are completely separate from the experiments.
Of course, the physicists involved are never happy to see a project developed and developed from nothing – where the physicists are involved, the benefits for science and society are obvious. They are invested in the CALSO proton engines for their results, but because the programme involves use of two unique proton engines that they were given the chance to build, the technical work involved is accelerated. The CALSO programme is producing an input of unique results every year – and I know that the engineers are absolutely thrilled.
CALSO will continue to make big contributions to science, including the proton engines created and tested here in the Canary Islands, the imaging probes now in space, the discoveries being made about quarks and the renewed interest in this science, and, of course, the programme will continue to build on that legacy.
This article was co-authored by Andrew Crampton, Director of Centre for Applied Wethers Primary Science, Miln Hall College, Oxford, and Professor Kate Mapstone, lead researcher in the CALSO programme at Waterloo University, London, and Grenoble Campegide, France.
CALSO is part of the Intellectual Properties Centre, the UCL CEP, managed by the LSE’s spinout incubator, starting in September 2014.