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Creating a Plasma Wake for Antimatter

An international team with a researcher from the Applied Optics Lab at École Polytechnique succeeded in accelerating positrons - the antimatter opposites of electrons - with a plasma. The results were published in Nature on 27 August 2015.

Simulation of high-energy positron acceleration in an ionized gas (or plasma), a new method that could achieve greater energy. The image shows the formation of a high density plasma (green and orange) surrounding a positron beam traveling from right to left and from bottom to top. Plasma electrons pass through this beam in corrugated trajectories. © Weiming An (UCLA)

Their results were published in Nature magazine on 27 August 2015. The study, conducted by Sébastien Corde, lecturer at École Polytechnique and researcher at the Applied Optics Lab (École Polytechnique / CNRS / ENSTA ParisTech, Université Paris-Saclay), demonstrated a new, efficient way to accelerate positrons in a plasma. This method may help boost the energy and shrink the size of future linear particle colliders – powerful accelerators that could be used to unravel the properties of nature’s fundamental building blocks.

Current technology to build electron-positron colliders for next-generation experiments would require accelerators that are tens of kilometers long. Plasma wakefield acceleration is one way researchers hope to build shorter, more economical accelerators.With a plasma, consisting of ions and free electrons, a density wave of large amplitude charge is excited and self-damped, and accelerates positrons with very large electric fields and therefore in a very effective way. This new study is therefore a very important step toward making smaller, less expensive next-generation electron-positron colliders. Although plasma-based particle colliders will not be built in the near future, the method could be used to upgrade existing accelerators much sooner.

The study, by Sébastien Corde, was conducted within the frame of an international collaboration involving the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, the University of California, Los Angeles, Oslo University and Tsinghua University. The researchers applied their techniques to positrons at SLAC’s Facility for Advanced Accelerator Experimental Tests (FACET).

> Read the press released published by the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
> Watch the animation video on the process of acceleration of positrons in a plasma