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UCL team develops laser accelerator for neutral particles

23 May 2012


C. Maher-McWilliams, P. Douglas, P. F. Barker

Laser-driven acceleration of neutral particles

Nature Photonics, 6 (2012)


Precise control of the motion of atoms and molecules is extremely difficult, yet important for a large spectrum of scientific and industrial processes. Applications range from surface growth and deposition, to elucidating the details of chemical reactions through controlled collisions.

C. Maher-McWilliams, P. Douglas, P. F. Barker, members of the Atomic, Molecular, Optical and Positron Physics (AMOPP) group, have recently developed a high-accuracy method that uses strong optical fields to trap and accelerate particles.

The method produces a beam of particles with a narrow velocity spread, a precisely controlled mean velocity, and sufficient flux over a wide range.  Acceleration up to velocities of hundreds of metres per second have been achieved. This acceleration occurs over tens of billionths of a second and over micrometre length scales. The team have shown that particle velocity can be continuously tuned over a wide range while maintaining a narrow velocity spread. Their method is very general and allows acceleration or deceleration of a wide variety of neutral atomic and molecular species as well as nanoscale particles.

UCL team develops laser accelerator for neutral particles