World’s Longest Accelerator Probes Universe’s Tiniest Particles

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MENLO PARK, California — recently toured the longest linear accelerator in the world, which resides beneath nondescript industrial buildings near the Stanford University campus.

Scientists at the Stanford Linear Accelerator, or SLAC, labs have won three Nobel prizes and are currently amassing the scientific evidence that there is more matter than antimatter in the universe, by smashing positrons and electrons together.

The lab’s next big project, the Linac Coherent Light Source, will go online next year. Its X-ray free electron laser will be roughly 10 billion times more powerful than existing X-ray sources and let researchers capture movies of atoms and molecules during chemical reactions.

Above: This 4,000-ton monster of an instrument sits at the intersection of two curved magnetic-beam paths, where it detects and measures elementary particles that are released when positrons slam in to electrons.

The Large Detector can measure every particle produced by this collision — except neutrinos, which can only be detected when they remove enough energy from the reaction that the scientists know something is missing.

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