“Accelerators for America’s Future”

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Publication date: 
8 September 2010

“For optimizing knowledge-based resources in science and technology, and for sustaining an environment for new and revitalized industries and the well-paying jobs they bring, a beam of particles is a very useful tool.” - Department of Energy: “Accelerators for America’s Future”

Approximately one year ago the Department of Energy’s Office of High Energy Physics held a well-attended one-day symposium  followed by a series of workshops to review “the challenges and opportunities for developing and deploying accelerators to meet national needs.”  Earlier this summer DOE released a 100-page report entitled “Accelerators for America’s Future” that presents the findings of the five workshops in key application areas.  This report, as described by Walter Henning and Charles Shank, the symposium and workshop chairs, is “a resource for agencies as they develop their agendas and programs.”  The report’s findings and recommendations will serve as a foundation for a technology R&D strategic plan that will be developed by the Office of Science.

This well-written report reviews the important contributions that accelerators have and could make in areas such as Energy and Environment, Industry, Medicine, National Security and Discovery Science.  A worrisome theme running through the findings of the working groups are the challenges posed by other countries in accelerator advances and applications.  In few instances does the United States appear to have a clear advantage in the future development and application of accelerator technology.

What public recognition there is of accelerators is usually limited to the large devices used for basic research.  Their application is much wider, with an estimated 30,000 particle accelerators in use throughout the world.  The economic impact of accelerators is significant.  The current market for medical and industrial accelerators is more than $3.5 billion a year, with estimated annual future growth of 10 percent.  The report notes that “all the products that are processed, treated or inspected by particle beams have a collective annual value of more than $500 billion.”  A major finding of the report is that:

“The United States, which has traditionally led the world in the development and application of accelerator technology, now lags behind other nations in many cases, and the gap is growing. To achieve the potential of particle accelerators to address national challenges will require a sustained focus on developing transformative technological opportunities, accompanied by changes in national programs and policy.”

Advances in accelerator technology have often resulted from basic scientific research.  The application of these advances has been uneven, the report stating:

“A critical challenge is the translation of breakthroughs in accelerator science and technology into applications that benefit the nation’s health, wealth and security. Experts from every field of accelerator science and technology, in the research community and industry alike, agree that making that happen will require bridging the divide often described as the ‘valley of death’ that exists in the United States today between the research laboratory and the marketplace.”

Among the reasons for this difficulty are insufficient R&D funding mechanisms, national facilities, and pilot and demonstration projects.  Risk aversion and deficient government-industry policies also contribute to this problem.

The report concludes with a chapter on technical, program, and policy directions.  Seven areas requiring further R&D in accelerator technology are identified in general areas such as size, cost, reliability and efficiency, as well as specific improvement such as improved beam control and simulation.  Policy recommendations were also described, as summarized early in the report:

“The accelerator stakeholders articulated the technical challenges and risks involved in achieving their vision for future accelerators and focused on changes in policy that would help to make the vision a reality. Across the board, all groups strongly advocated the creation of large-scale demonstration and development facilities to help bridge the gap between development and deployment of accelerator technologies. They called for greatly improved interagency, interprogram, and industry-agency coordination. Because continued innovation in accelerator technology depends on the next generation of accelerator scientists, they emphasized the need to strengthen the training and education of U.S. accelerator scientists and engineers, and to recognize accelerator science as a scientific discipline. The Office of Science will use the workshop’s results, presented in this report, to develop a strategic plan for accelerator technology R&D that recognizes its broad national impacts.”

The full report can be reviewed here.