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The Science of the Very Fast and Very Small

April 2, 2014 - 3:15pm

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The PHENIX detector at Brookhaven National Lab's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a type of particle accelerator, records many different particles emerging from RHIC collisions, including photons, electrons, muons, and quark-containing particles called hadrons. The detector is shown here in a disassembled condition during maintenance. | Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory.

The PHENIX detector at Brookhaven National Lab's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a type of particle accelerator, records many different particles emerging from RHIC collisions, including photons, electrons, muons, and quark-containing particles called hadrons. The detector is shown here in a disassembled condition during maintenance. | Photo courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory.

This month on Energy.gov, we'll be exploring the science of the very fast and very small. From particle accelerators used to study the physical world to innovations in nanotechnology that could revolutionize industries, we'll examine the contributions of the Energy Department's National Labs to these important frontiers of science.

Particle Accelerators

Particle accelerators use electric fields to speed up and increase the energy of a beam of particles, which are steered and focused by magnetic fields. Particles can be directed at a fixed target, or two beams of particles can be collided. Studying these collisions can reveal new subatomic particles, such as the recently confirmed Higgs-Boson.

Beyond high-energy physics, particle accelerators are used to treat cancer, scan shipping containers and create better shrink wrap, among numerous other uses. In fact, there are more than 30,000 accelerators in use around the world, many of them in medicine and manufacturing.

At the National Labs, scientists use particle accelerators to study the origins of our universe, investigate the subatomic structure of the world around us and advance research in medicine, environmental clean-up and more.

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is science, technology and engineering conducted at the nanoscale, which is about 1 to 100 nanometers. To get a sense of how small that is, realize that there are 25.4 million nanometers in an inch.

At these small sizes, scientists are working to observe and control individual atoms and molecules in order to study materials, manufacturing (also known as nanomanufacturing) and biology at the nanoscale, where many of the inner workings of cells naturally occur.

The field of nanotechnology is already leading to faster, smaller, and more portable electronics, more efficient fuel production from petroleum materials, and new medical tools and procedures that are more portable, cheaper, safer and easier to administer.

From Oak Ridge National Lab's Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences to Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry, scientists at the Energy Department's National Labs are conducting innovative research at incredibly small scales that has the potential to improve, and even revolutionize, many sectors -- from personal electronics to public health and beyond.

Follow along all month on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram as we explore the science of the very fast and very small.

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