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From the Director: Accelerator Science at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

This week in a hotel in Gaithersburg, Maryland, the Office of High Energy Physics conducted a review of OHEP-supported accelerator science at the national laboratories. Accelerators are used throughout science, medicine and industry. As the charge to the review stated:

The [OHEP] Accelerator Science program nurtures the technologies needed to design and build the future accelerator facilities that will be used to carry out the HEP research program, and also to provide new accelerator-based tools for other scientific research disciplines, thereby advancing our strategic goals for science.

SLAC has a long history of accelerator design and innovation supported by a very strong program in accelerator research. The unique test facilities provided by End Stations A and B, the Next Linear Collider Test Accelerator, the Klystron Test Facility, Accelerator Structure Test Area and the SLAC linac itself, support strong experimental programs in high gradient microwave structure research and development, laser acceleration and plasma wakefield acceleration. In addition, strong beam physics and advanced computing efforts support the accelerator programs on the site. SLAC has an important role in training the accelerator scientists; Stanford University is one of only a handful of universities in the U.S. offering advanced degrees in accelerator physics.

The SLAC Accelerator Research program focuses heavily on exploring strategies to reach higher accelerating gradients to achieve higher-energy machines in the future. Physicists will need lepton machines to explore the TeV energy frontier that will first be opened by the Large Hadron Collider. While high-energy physics is focused on the International Linear Collider as a next step, the accelerator research programs at SLAC are exploring strategies for the decades to come. And as is often the case, the current research and development, while motivated by the problems of the field of high-energy physics, will likely have broad and unanticipated impacts in other fields as well.

The laboratory is fully committed to the accelerator science programs. Lab management views this as key to the future of the laboratory and of the fields of photon science and particle physics. This commitment is reflected in the Science Laboratory Infrastructure proposal to the Office of Science for a research support building that would provide a single home for all accelerator science at the site. It is reflected in our Laboratory-Directed R&D program, which in this first year allocated 70% of its funding to accelerator science. And it is reflected in the new name for the laboratory that calls out accelerators as the key core capability and a foundation for future programs.

At the Gaithersburg meeting, I enjoyed listening to an excellent series of presentations from Tor Raubenheimer, Sami Tantawi, Mark Hogan, Eric Colby and Yun Hai Cai. (Note that ILC and Linac Coherent Light Source were specifically not a part of this review.) The SLAC program is well thought-out and well articulated, led by an outstanding group of energetic researchers who are eager to push the current limits of technology and ultimately make the next generations of accelerators feasible and affordable.

—Persis Drell
SLAC Today, December 5, 2008