Physics Questions People Ask Fermilab

Homemade Particle Accelerator

You wrote:
I wonder if I could ask physicists of the Fermilab if exist a simple particle accelerator that can be homemade. Well, I'm asking that because Prof. Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of physics at New York City College, said in his best-seller book "Hyperspace" that he built a particle accelerator in his garage when he was a teenager.

I don't understand why Prof. Kaku would lie about such thing, so I thought it would be worthy seeking this simple model that he talk about in his book.

Thank you for your attention,
- Leonardo

Hi, Leonardo:

There is a particle accelerator in front of you right now if you are reading this on a computer. The simple TV contains the basic elements of any particle accelerator. They are: a particle source (electrons in the case of a TV), an electric field (to accelerate the beam of electrons), magnets (to guide the beam), vacuum chamber (the TV tube), and beam diagnostics (the TV screen so you can see where the beam went).

So, if you can build a TV, you have put together the basic elements needed in a particle accelerator, even though you don't think of it that way. Radio Shack sells TV kits, not "particle accelerator kits", but the elements are the same.

However, I think your professor was talking about something more complicated. And there is a case of a real person who built a particle accelerator in his basement when he was a teenager. He has since graduated in physics from the University of Chicago and (I'm pretty sure) is in graduate school at the University of Michigan. He put together the same elements I talked about earlier. The hard part was getting the vacuum system, which he got by scrounging around in Army surplus depots and junk yards. So a home made particle accelerator has been made in real life, not just in storybooks.

Fermilab Physicist

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