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Scheduling Experiments Much Easier with Lab's New LION

Takeshi Kanesue (left) and Masahiro Okamura

Takeshi Kanesue (left) and Masahiro Okamura at the new Laser Ion Source (LION).

Microwaving popcorn never quite turns out right. Inevitably, some kernels remain unpopped while others burn. Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory were experiencing a similar phenomenon with their ion source, the device that feeds singly ionized atoms into the particle accelerators that supply beams to the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) and the NASA Space Radiation Laboratory (NSRL).

Some ions reached the optimum charge state, while others didn’t have enough charge or had too much.

But in March of this year, a new Laser Ion Source (LION) started operating. LION allows superfast switching of ion species to feed beams into either RHIC, which recreates the conditions of the early universe, or NSRL, which can now more realistically simulate the radiation astronauts would experience in deep space.

LION delivers a burst of intense current to the Electron Beam Ion Source (EBIS), the next link in the accelerator chain feeding RHIC and NSRL, which increases the ion’s charge state by stripping its electrons. The required injection time into EBIS is much less than for the previous ion source, so scientists can throw a bowl of popcorn kernels – ions – into the “microwave” with one action instead of filling it over time. That allows them to get all of the ions needed to the desired charge state all at once. Getting to this charge state gives the ions the positive electric charge they need in order to be accelerated by powerful electric fields down the line before they reach RHIC and NSRL.

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