An experiment reveals the potential of custom-engineered metamaterials to yield higher accelerating gradients than current particle accelerator technology allows.

Particle accelerators are some of the biggest man-made machines, capable of endowing particles with tera-electron-volts (TeV) of energy. And yet, to discover new particles or to explore the conditions of the early Universe, we might ultimately need much higher energies. The expense and land requirements for such large machines have pushed scientists and engineers to explore alternative accelerator technologies, which can accelerate particles ever closer to light speed over shorter distances [1]. A promising option for a linear accelerator is wakefield acceleration, where the acceleration comes from the intense electric field produced in the wake of a relativistic electron bunch, or “drive,” that travels through a cavity or plasma. A group led by Richard Temkin at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, and colleagues has now designed and tested a structure made of steel and copper plates—a “metamaterial”—that offers potential advantages for wakefield acceleration [2].

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