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In a full-scale particle accelerator, electrons fly along a kilometers-long path as microwaves bombard them, boosting the particles to near light speed. Such a high-energy electron beam, produced at facilities such as California’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, enables a variety of experiments, including capturing extremely detailed images and probing the structures of molecules. But particle accelerators are expensive, require scientists to travel from locations all over the world and cannot accommodate all the researchers who submit requests to book time. To make these devices more accessible, a team at Stanford University developed a laser-driven particle accelerator that fits on a tiny silicon chip—and that could eventually be scaled up to produce a beam with as much energy as SLAC’s.

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