The new UK particle accelerator VELA (Versatile Electron Linear Accelerator) has achieved a significant electron acceleration milestone, which heralds exciting new opportunities for industry to apply the latest particle accelerator technology to its most critical commercial challenges.
In August 2011, a £2.5m investment was made into the Science and Technology Facilities Council's Daresbury Laboratory for accelerator technology developments, as part of a series of investments across the wider Sci-Tech Daresbury Campus. VELA's unique electron beam characteristics, coupled with its exceptional repeatability and flexibility, make it ideal for applications development across a broad range of key market sectors; everything from seeing through aircraft luggage and developing more effective hospital radiotherapy machines, to shrink-wrapping cable bundles and curing ink.
On the 5th of April 2013 VELA's first beam of electrons was successfully accelerated and captured, making it the latest innovative particle accelerator from the Science and Technology Facilities Councils Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire. VELA has been purpose-designed to assist industry in bridging the gap between prototypes and market ready products through the use of charged particle beams. This first successful demonstration of VELA means that it is now expected to be ready for commercial and research use in Summer 2013 with the first commercial users already booked.
"VELA has huge potential for the development of novel technologies across many sectors, such as security, healthcare and manufacturing. As the facility becomes operational, we look forward to realising the impact of these technological advances for the benefit of UK industry," said Professor Susan Smith, Director of the Accelerator Science and Technology Centre (ASTeC), following the achievement of this significant milestone. "A lot of hard work has gone into the development of VELA, and it's great to see it starting to pay off."
Accelerators pervade many aspects of modern life: every year, £340 billion of end products are produced, sterilized or examined using industrial accelerators worldwide. Therefore it is important for UK industry to have access to such facilities. To this end the VELA development has been backed by three major commercial partners - Siemens , Rapiscan and e2v and over 80 companies ranging from blue-chips to SMEs have supported its construction. Strathclyde University has also collaborated with STFC to develop the VELA facility in order to demonstrate the operating performance of an advanced electron beam injector for laser-wakefield accelerator applications.
Accelerators are also used extensively in hospitals for cancer therapy. Technological advances which make accelerators more compact and cheaper to operate will only increase their industrial applicability - resulting in new opportunities for high-value manufacturing and a significant economic impact across a breadth of sectors.
The accelerator facilities and expertise within STFC are positioning the UK to unlock the potential of these technological advances for the benefit of UK industry and the national economy.
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The Versatile Electron Linear Accelerator (VELA) is a high performance, modular injector facility capable of delivering a highly stable, highly customisable, short pulse, high quality electron beam to a series of test enclosures. The new facility will deliver a capability for the cutting edge development and qualification of advanced accelerator systems, enabling industry to expedite their technology development from prototypes to market ready products. In doing so it has the potential to help revolutionise the use of accelerators in priority areas such as:
VELA accelerates electrons to high energies, which can then be used to test samples of material, produce images, or test the operation of novel accelerator components. Electron beams can also be used to modify or improve the properties of a material by causing changes to its molecular structure.
VELA will produce an electron beam of exceptionally high quality, exceeding that of any commercially available facility. This feature will aid the development of new and compact accelerator technologies, opening up opportunities in the UK for high-value manufacturing of commercially-ready accelerator systems.
New accelerator technologies will be developed on VELA, enabling for example revolutionary new security scanning and medical imaging techniques. This will lead to the development of new scanning and imaging products, and a boost to high-value manufacturing in the UK.
Optimisation of accelerator-assisted manufacturing (currently €400 billion of products globally per annum) will help improve energy efficiency and product throughput, enabling industry to operate more efficiently and sustainably.
Through industrial collaborations, knowledge transfer activities and academic links founded through the Cockcroft Institute, VELA will help train the next generation of accelerator scientists and engineers in the skills needed to support UK industry's increasing use of accelerator technology.
The skillsets that have been used to design and build VELA have also been used to up-skill UK SMEs to enable them to compete at an international level at the forefront of advanced manufacturing sector.
The Science and Technology Facilities Council is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security.
The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.
STFC operates or hosts world class experimental facilities including in the UK the ISIS pulsed neutron source, the Central Laser Facility, and LOFAR, and is also the majority shareholder in Diamond Light Source Ltd.
It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities by funding membership of international bodies including European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institut Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO). STFC is one of seven publicly-funded research councils. It is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
STFC's Daresbury Laboratory has a distinguished 50-year heritage in world-leading accelerator design and construction. The laboratory has produced a number of 'world firsts', including the Synchrotron Radiation Source (SRS) facility which operated here for 28 years, contributing to two Nobel prizes and advances such as cleaner fuel, safer aircraft and new medicines. The SRS paved the way for ~70 similar facilities across the globe and was the forerunner of the Diamond facility at STFC's RAL site in Oxfordshire.
More recently, the unique EMMA (Electron Model for Many Applications) accelerator demonstrated for the first time a more efficient accelerating process which can make accelerators far more compact, cheaper to operate, and which deliver beams in a more controlled and accurate way. This technology promises applications from more effective cancer therapy machines to powering safer nuclear reactors that produce less hazardous waste.