The North West’s Accelerator Cluster Leads the World

2nd July 2018

Large Hadron Collider at CERN is at the forefront of particle physics research


Breakthroughs led by Cockcroft Institute scientists promise new discoveries and applications with next generation particle accelerators

Another world first has secured the North West of England’s position as a centre for world-leading accelerator science. Engineers and scientists from the Cockcroft Institute, working closely with colleagues from around the world at CERN, have demonstrated that it is possible to create head-on collisions of proton beams using a crab-like motion. Work at the centre on plasma accelerators (the fifth state of matter) could be used to reduce their size by a factor of 1,000 making this technology available for new applications.

Professor Carsten Welsch, Head of Liverpool’s Physics Department and Head of Communications for the Cockcroft Institute, comments that pushing the frontiers of accelerator science inspires scientists and has the potential to create new industries. He says: “Although the Large Hadron Collider at CERN is the best-known accelerator, there are over 30,000 worldwide located in clinics, universities and industrial facilities.

“Accelerators have made possible semiconductor chips used in computers and mobile devices, x-rays and proton beams for cancer therapy and imaging, novel methods of food preservation, and the hardening of surfaces such as those inartificial joints.

“Everything in the universe is made of particles and energy, so through the experiments in the LHC we are gaining a deeper understanding of the laws that govern matter, energy, space and time. It is as inspirational as the ‘space race’ for a new generation of scientists.”

The Cockcroft Institute is a collaboration between the STFC and the universities of Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester and Stratchclyde.

The benefits of accelerators are currently limited by their size; a smaller, more affordable version would open up new opportunities for industry and medicine to use this technology. Plasma accelerators use a laser to create ripples in a plasma to propel particles at speed. The Cockcroft is working on designs for a new type of accelerator based on plasma that would dramatically reduce the size and cost of accelerators.

Prof Welsch explains: “Such a plasma accelerator would be attractive for providing high-energy sources for medical and industrial applications, as well as for fundamental research studies. Medical applications could include compact light sources for patient diagnostics and treatment for example.

Prof Welsch has worked closely with industry to coordinate a number of pan-European networks that have trained almost one hundred accelerator scientists and engineers and built capability in the partner organisations. This activity has supported the growth of an Accelerator Cluster centred on the North West.

The Cockcroft Institute is in the Weaver Vale constituency of Mike Amesbury MP.

He congratulated the teams involved: “The Accelerator Cluster in the North West is of international importance and the deep technology being developed here is of great strategic value. Innovations stimulate the economy and we have seen recently Liverpool named as the fast growing hub for digital technology and this us attracting inward investment. I’m delighted to continue to celebrate the brilliant work that the Cockcroft Institute and its partners are doing to keep the Northwest, and Daresbury in particular, as a leading centre for innovation in accelerator science.”

The breakthrough facilitated by Cockcroft experts:

World’s first ‘crabbing’ of a proton beam 

Luminosity, originally used to measure of the brightness of a star, determines how many collisions take place in a particle collider per unit of time. Currently the beams in the LHC just cross over to create the opportunity for particles to collide; to maximise the chance of a smash, Cockcroft scientists have contributed to experiments with a method of capturing short bunches of protons a few centimetres long and throwing them sideways to hit another bunch of protons head-on. These ‘crab cavities’ have the potential to increase the luminosity of the LHC by a factor of ten; this will speed up discovery to such a degree that ten months’ of current work could be done in just one.

Prof Welsch comments: “Dr Lee Carver, a Cockcroft Postdoc from the University of Liverpool based at CERN had a key role in the measurements. Although further studies with beams are required to fully understand the potential of crab cavities, these initial results demonstrate the huge potential of this new technology. They will take high-energy particle physics into a new era.”


There is an opportunity for those in industry, science and education to find out more about the latest developments in accelerators and lasers at the ‘Quantum Leap Towards the Next Generation of Particle Accelerators’ Symposium in Liverpool on 6th July 2018. For more information visit


2nd July 2018