The Quest for Better Accelerators

  • Headshot of Anne-Marie Valente-Feliciano

Anne-Marie Valente-Feliciano is hunting for the formula to produce better particle accelerators for research, industry and medicine.

The ability to perfectly control the process of laying thin films of material onto the surface of an inexpensive metal may be all it takes to produce more efficient and cheaper particle accelerators for a wide range of applications. Valente-Feliciano, an accelerator physicist at Jefferson Lab, has been awarded a DOE Early Career Award to pursue her research into building better accelerators.

“I’m very honored to receive this award, and I’m excited to push forward the field of thin film technologies for accelerator applications,” she said.

Her research concerns building particle accelerators that function with superconducting radiofrequency, or SRF, technology, the same tech that powers Jefferson Lab’s CEBAF Accelerator, a DOE Office of Science user facility. CEBAF is the world’s first large-scale accelerator to successfully demonstrate SRF acceleration technologies.

Today, SRF accelerator components, such as those that power CEBAF, are typically made of a pure metal called niobium, which becomes superconducting when cooled to low temperatures. The topmost surfaces of accelerator components made of pure niobium accelerates particles efficiently when cooled to near absolute zero.

But not only is niobium expensive, cooling it to near absolute zero is, too. Valente-Feliciano’s research has already shown that it may be be possible to get better performance out of components made from other metals, such as copper or aluminum, that have a topmost surface layer of pure niobium metal and other superconducting materials.

She is developing a process that uses energetic condensation film deposition, which may allow accelerator builders to carefully control the application of these thin-film top layers of niobium to accelerator components. The process will allow fine-tuning of the the thickness, the chemistry of how these layers bind to the base metals, and how defect-free and clean the surface is once the process is complete.

Copper or aluminum components that are specially coated with one or more thin-film layers of niobium and other materials with similar properties will likely be cheaper than pure niobium components, may not need to be kept quite as cold to run efficiently, and may provide better performance than pure niobium.

“If you make accelerators more efficient, cheaper to make and able to operate at a higher temperature, you can exploit them not only to benefit research, but also many more societal and commercial uses, such as accelerators for cancer treatment in hospitals or for wastewater treatment,” said Valente-Feliciano.

As a researcher based at Jefferson Lab, a DOE national laboratory, Valente-Feliciano will receive a DOE Early Career Award grant for at least $500,000 per year for her project, titled “Next Generation Superconducting Radio Frequency (SRF) Cavities with Optimized RF Performance via Energetic Condensation Thin Film Technology.” The five-year research grant will cover salary and research expenses.

"We are excited to learn of this award and recognition of Anne-Marie, one of our up and coming SRF scientists and future leaders,” said Robert Rimmer, leader of Jefferson Lab’s Institute for Superconducting Radiofrequency and Technology. “This award will accelerate the development and deployment of the technology for real-world accelerator applications, such as an electron-ion collider and other future colliders, as well as many other potential applications for science, industry, medicine and environmental applications.”

Contact: Kandice Carter, Jefferson Lab Communications Office, 757-269-7263, kcarter@jlab.org

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Jefferson Science Associates, LLC, a joint venture of the Southeastern Universities Research Association, Inc. and PAE Applied Technologies, manages and operates the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, or Jefferson Lab, for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science.DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit science.energy.gov.