Atom Smashers

To study atomic nuclei, physicists shoot charged subatomic particles at other particles or at a stationary target. In 1947 researchers at Stanford University began building linear particle accelerators in which a traveling electric field sends electrons flying down a straight tube. Over time they constructed “atom smashers” of increasing length and power. This is part of a two-mile machine built at the height of the Cold War, when the federal government was willing to pay its $100,000,000 cost to help maintain the prestige of American physics.

Portion of Linear Accelerator, 1962–1966
This small section of the accelerator has been cut to show carefully positioned diaphragms inside the beam tube, as well as one of a series of connections that fed microwave energy into it. (Collected 1967, Gift of Stanford Linear Accelerator Center)

Stanford Linear Accelerator, 2004