About one month from today, the world's most powerful electron synchroton will begin conducting in Cambridge the fastest particle acceleration ever achieved by man.
Located just north of the University Herbarium, the Cambridge Electron accelerator is a joint Harvard-M.I.T. project financed by the Atomic Energy commission. The $11.5 million "atom-smasher," now nearly five years in the asking, will completely dwarf present electron accelerators.
Its expected yield of six billion electron-volts will make it four times as powerful as machines operating at Cornell, Stanford, and Cal. Tech.
Hidden Below Ground
Most of the apparatus is hidden ten feet below the ground. A linear accelerator will start the process by firing electrons into orbit inside a 240 ft. diameter doughnut." Attached to the hollow tube are huge electro-magnets which will further speed up the particles in radio frequency pulses. After eight milli-seconds and 10,000 turns, the high-energy electrons will be directed in bursts at targets in the experimental hall.
In the hall, elaborate equipment will "take notes on" the short lives of the particles and anti-particles released in the process. M. Staney Livingston, M.I.T. professor of Physics and director of the project, says:
New Unstable Particles
"We expect these high-energy electrons to produce heavy mesons, negative protons, and other new unstable particles with energies higher than can be obtained by any machines now in use."
Some Harvard and M.I.T. undergraduates will be able to use the machine, according to the joint committee. Harvard M.I.T. faculty and graduate students will be given preference, but other eastern universities are also expected to connect experiments here.
Inside the underground tunnel, workers are laying the key parts in place and testing them individually. Every large electronics firm has contributed parts for the mammoth accelerator, which has its own water-cooling system and will tax Cambridge power for 1000 kw/sec during experiments.
The circular tunnel and the experimental hall are shielded by concrete walls ten feet thick. To avoid radioactive dangers, doors seal automatically and a 40-ton crane operated by remote control moves equipment.
It was an important discovery in 1952 Ivy Livingston and two other physicists which paved the way for an accelerator of this size. The principle of alternating gradient, or strong focusing, made possible the Brookhaven proton synchroton, which produces up to 30 billion electron volts.
Livingston has noted that the Cambridge accelerator, which attains higher speeds at lower energies, will be to the study of light-particle physics what the brookhaven machine is to heavy-particle physics.
The joint committee of the project includes President Pusey and Norman F. Ramsey, Edward M. Purcell, and Jabez C. Street, professors of Physics.
M.I.T. committeemen are Julius A. Stratton, vice-president and provost; Admiral Edward L. Cochrane, vice-president for industrial and government relations; Nathaniel H. Frank, David H. Frisch, and Jerrold Zacharias, professors of Physics.