CERN building miniature linear accelerator for hospitals
CERN is developing a new particle accelerator dubbed miniature linear accelerator (mini-Linac) that is just two metres long and some of the potential uses of this miniature accelerator include deployment in hospitals for the production of medical isotopes, imaging and the treatment of cancer.
The mini-Linac will pack four modules, each 50cm long, the first of which has already been constructed. According to CERN, the miniature accelerator will consist of a radiofrequency quadrupole (RFQ), a component found at the start of all proton accelerator chains around the world, from the smallest to the largest.
The “mini-RFQ” can produce low-intensity beams, with no significant losses, of just a few microamps that are grouped at a frequency of 750 MHz. These specifications make the “mini-RFQ” a perfect injector for the new generation of high-frequency, compact linear accelerators used for the treatment of cancer with protons.
The mini-Linac will produce beams at low speeds, containing particles which, after travelling two metres, have an energy of 5 MeV.
The construction of the first of the four 50 cm long modules that will make up the final accelerator has been successfully completed in CERN’s workshops and in a few months’ time the teams will be able to test all of the modules together.
“With this first module, we have validated all of the stages of construction and the concept in general,” explains Serge Mathot of the EN department, who is in charge of the construction of the “mini-RFQ”. “At first, several stages in the construction process seemed very tricky, but thanks to the experience we gained from the brazing of the cavities for Linac4 and to the skills of CERN’s technical teams, we were eventually able to obtain excellent results, even when faced with a new technological challenge.”
The applications of this high-tech miniature accelerator go far beyond its use as an injector for hadron therapy. Thanks to its small size and light weight, the “mini-RFQ” could become the key element of a system able to produce radioactive isotopes on site in hospitals for use in medical imaging. This could avoid complications relating to the transportation of radioactive material and could also widen the range of isotopes produced for this purpose.
Small but powerful and with many potential uses, the “mini-RFQ” will also be capable of accelerating alpha particles for advanced radiotherapy techniques, which many consider to be the new frontier in the treatment of cancer. And, to finish on a lighter note, its small size means that in principle it can be fairly easily transported, which would be particularly useful for the analysis of archaeological materials and objects.
Assembly of the four modules is planned for the start of next year.