The machine used in nuclear physics is call Accelerator. Because it accelerate, speed up the particle.
There are basically 2 types, one is called Linear Accelerator (Linac) , another type is called Circular Accelerator.
in fact, there are many other type of accelerator, as long as they can accelerate particle, by definition, it can be called as accelerator. for example, The vacuum tube in old day TV is an electron accelerator! However, most other type of accelerators can only speed up particle at low speed, not comparable to speed of light. So, in modern nuclear physics, we don`t use them. Nevertheless, the mechanism of them may be reviewed and other type of accelerator may be invented in future, who know!
so, far, all Accelerator can only handle charged particle.
The particle being accelerated in Linac is moving in a straight line. that is why the name Linear. Linac constitutes of many sectors, each sector is a mini accelerator, which speed up the particle by adding energy into it.
The simplest type of Linac is 2 parallel plate with a hole at the middle, and has the electric potential different V. when an electron passed through it, it will gain eV of energy and then speed up. so, if there is n sector, and each sector are identical, the final energy is neV. This LINEAR behavior also address the name.
Now, imagine you have many plates, when the particle passed plate 1, a voltage applied on plate 2 to speed up the particle. after the particle passed plate 2, you have to turn off the voltage and apply the voltage on plate 3, and the process go on. thus, the voltage on each plate is oscillating, which is the working frequency of Linac. Moreover, when the particle speed up, the time for it with in each section will be smaller and smaller, thus, the working frequency has to be increase and matching the particle speed. the other way around it, building each sector in different length, but this method will set a definite frequency of the Linac and the output energy.
The advantage of Linac is that :
- it can produced continuous beam
- less energy lost during acceleration. where all charged particle will radiate energy while accelerating.
The disadvantage is :
- limited length, so the Maximum energy is limited
- The working frequency has to be tuned so accurate. it is harder to operate a Linac.