Posts Tagged ‘LANL’

The LANSCE Beam Pipe

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1 Commentby   |  07.06.10  |  Research

(Contribution by Daniel Pamplin, Senior Physics and Math major.  Daniel is working at Los Alamos National Lab this summer.)

Upon hearing the words linear particle accelerator, it is common to think of a very high tech building connected to a long accelerator.  It is easy to expect very complicated machinery in a modern organized building.  Inside, everything is partitioned off neatly and fairly open.  The Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE for short) is nothing like that.

The LANSCE accelerator begins in a very organized fashion.  Upon driving past the guard gate there is a bend in the road and then the beginning of the accelerator comes to view.  The road turns past the main complex and follows the accelerator down its half mile length, then the unexpected happens.  What was one long building blossoms into a hodgepodge of structures that seem to be placed randomly.  To traverse the path between any of these edifices it is often necessary to travel through an obstacle course of 3 ton concrete bricks, makeshift stairways, beam dumps, barbed wire fences, precolombian ruins and beam pipes.  The photo below shows one such obstacle, and in case you can not read the two signs posted near the pipe they say, “DANGER, HIGH RADIATION AREA” and “Beam Pipe Do Not Linger.”

The LANSCE particle beam--do not linger.

The LANSCE particle beam--do not linger.

Taken aback by the bizarre layout and the hive network of dirt paths, it would be easy to dismiss LANSCE as a backyard science project that has grown out of control, but  the proton accelerator has one more surprise.  The design may be random, but some of the most cutting edge experiments take place in these odd buildings.

After the protons are accelerated to 84% of the speed of light in just a half mile, they strike a target that spews out neutrons in all directions.  The energy of the neutrons depends on the angle that they leave the target.  This explains the seemingly random placement of some of the structures.  Each different building is receiving neutrons with different energy levels that are then used by the scientists for their own purposes.  Anything from cross-section data to irradiating microchips can be examined with this exceptional facility.

LANSCE is a very district place to work with awesome science and technology perched on the edge of a  plateau with a great view, and where ducking under a radioactive beam pipe is just another day at the office.

-Daniel