Researchers at CERN have just unveiled a new particle accelerator that they’re hoping will help doctors treat cancer patients and at the same time help experts analyze art. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) that’s at the facility is in the process of being upgraded to allow it capture more data. It’s the latest upgrade included replacing the old injector that regulates the flow of particles for the LHC.
This new piece of equipment is called the Linac 4 machine. It cost 93 million Swiss francs ($93 million) and took ten years to build. “It’s a brave new world of applications,” says project leader Maurizio Vretenar. Doctors have already used a version built by CERN to treat patients with tumors using the particle beams and to create isotopes for diagnosing cancers. “With our portable technology they could be made inside the hospital already,” says Vretenar. This would be a huge advantage since they normally decay quite rapidly.
The next move for Vretenar is to create the same type of machine but this time that could be used to analyze paintings, jewelry and other pieces of artwork. “We are building something portable,” he said. “We already have a collaboration with the Lourve, and with the Italians at Florence at the Italian Institute for the conservation of artworks.” When the museum is closed on Tuesdays, artifacts are taken down to the accelerator in the basement to be analyzed. The results come back in just a few hours and can give valuable details about the piece it analyzed. For example, it can tell which mine a particular piece of jewelry came from, or reveal fakes or restorations by detecting heavy elements that identify and date the paint that was used. Vretenar also confirmed there is no risk of damaging these artifacts either. “We are very careful,” he says. “The intensity of particles is very low. It’s not like here; there are only a few photons.”
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