Major boost to UK participation in pioneering experiment at CERN

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) has awarded a major grant to partners of the Cockcroft Institute to support the participation of the UK in the AWAKE experiment at CERN.

The purpose of the AWAKE experiment is to demonstrate a new method to accelerate electrons to very high energies. The new technique, called proton-driven wakefield acceleration, takes advantage of the strong electric fields created in the wake of a proton beam travelling through a plasma. These fields can have gradients of up to 1,000 times higher than the fields that can be achieved in conventional RF accelerators, potentially shortening the length of the machine by a similar factor. ​

AWAKE experiment at CERN (image credit: CERN).

The first phase of the AWAKE experiment has already demonstrated the merits of the scheme with the successful acceleration of a bunch of electrons to 2 GeV in 10 metres of plasma driven by a 400 GeV proton beam (see Nature article). The second phase, which is already underway, will seek to upscale the technique to bring the electron energies closer to the range where they can compete with conventional colliders.

The UK is a major participant in AWAKE, making leading contributions to the beam line design, diagnostics to characterise the initial and accelerated beams, and development of a plasma cell scalable to over hundreds of metres and the associated diagnostic systems.

The £4M award from STFC, of which £1.7M will go to members of the Cockcroft Institute, will support the UK contributions to AWAKE Run 2 with the development of a new electron injector, a new plasma cell, and several new diagnostic tools.

Visual representation of proton-driven wakefield acceleration.

The scientific coordinator of AWAKE-UK, Prof Matthew Wing of UCL says: “I am absolutely delighted with this major award from STFC. AWAKE is a unique facility that could open up the possibility to new particle physics experiments through accelerating particles to higher energies over shorter distances than is currently possible using conventional acceleration methods.  I am looking forward to many new exciting results over the coming years and further advances in this cutting-edge technology.”

The UK contingent in AWAKE comprises partners of the Cockcroft Institute (the universities of Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, and Strathclyde) and the John Adams Institute (University of Oxford, Imperial College London and University College London.)

Members of the Cockcroft Institute are developing a set of novel beam diagnostic techniques that are necessary to monitor and optimise the unique properties of the proton and electron beams involved in AWAKE.

Prof Welsch, who is also the scientific project manager of AWAKE-UK says: “The major funding award is fantastic news for Liverpool and the AWAKE-UK collaboration. This ground-breaking experiment has already realised several ‚world‘s first‘ breakthrough measurements and we have very exciting plans for the future.”

To find out more about the project, please visit: