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The Production of High Speed Light Ions Without the Use of High Voltages

Phys. Rev. 40, 19 – Published 1 April 1932
Ernest O. Lawrence and M. Stanley Livingston


The study of the nucleus would be greatly facilitated by the development of sources of high speed ions, particularly protons and helium ions, having kinetic energies in excess of 1,000,000 volt-electrons; for it appears that such swiftly moving particles are best suited to the task of nuclear excitation. The straightforward method of accelerating ions through the requisite differences of potential presents great experimental difficulties associated with the high electric fields necessarily involved. The present paper reports the development of a method that avoids these difficulties by means of the multiple acceleration of ions to high speeds without the use of high voltages. The method is as follows: Semi-circular hollow plates, not unlike duants of an electrometer, are mounted with their diametral edges adjacent, in a vacuum and in a uniform magnetic field that is normal to the plane of the plates.

High frequency oscillations are applied to the plate electrodes producing an oscillating electric field over the diametral region between them. As a result during one half cycle the electric field accelerates ions, formed in the diametral region, into the interior of one of the electrodes, where they are bent around on circular paths by the magnetic field and eventually emerge again into the region between the electrodes. The magnetic field is adjusted so that the time required for traversal of a semi-circular path within the electrodes equals a half period of the oscillations. In consequence, when the ions return to the region between the electrodes, the electric field will have reversed direction, and the ions thus receive second increments of velocity on passing into the other electrode. Because the path radii within the electrodes are proportional to the velocities of the ions, the time required for a traversal of a semi-circular path is independent of their velocities. Hence if the ions take exactly one half cycle on their first semi-circles, they do likewise on all succeeding ones and therefore spiral around in resonance with the oscillating field until they reach the periphery of the apparatus.

Their final kinetic energies are as many times greater than that corresponding to the voltage applied to the electrodes as the number of times they have crossed from one electrode to the other. This method is primarily designed for the acceleration of light ions and in the present experiments particular attention has been given to the production of high speed protons because of their presumably unique utility for experimental investigations of the atomic nucleus. Using a magnet with pole faces 11 inches in diameter, a current of 10-9 ampere of 1,220,000 volt-protons has been produced in a tube to which the maximum applied voltage was only 4000 volts. There are two features of the developed experimental method which have contributed largely to its success. First there is the focussing action of the electric and magnetic fields which prevents serious loss of ions as they are accelerated.

In consequence of this, the magnitudes of the high speed ion currents obtainable in this indirect manner are comparable with those conceivably obtainable by direct high voltage methods. Moreover, the focussing action results in the generation of very narrow beams of ions—less than 1 mm cross-sectional diameter—which are ideal for experimental studies of collision processes. Of hardly less importance is the second feature of the method which is the simple and highly effective means for the correction of the magnetic field along the paths of the ions. This makes it possible, indeed easy, to operate the tube effectively with a very high amplification factor (i.e., ratio of final equivalent voltage of accelerated ions to applied voltage). In consequence, this method in its present stage of development constitutes a highly reliable and experimentally convenient source of high speed ions requiring relatively modest laboratory equipment. Moreover, the present experiments indicate that this indirect method of multiple acceleration now makes practicable the production in the laboratory of protons having kinetic energies in excess of 10,000,000 volt-electrons. With this in mind, a magnet having pole faces 114 cm in diameter is being installed in our laboratory.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRev.40.19

  • Received 20 February 1932
  • Published in the issue dated April 1932

© 1932 The American Physical Society

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Authors & Affiliations

Ernest O. Lawrence and M. Stanley Livingston

  • University of California

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