The Advanced WAKEfield Experiment (AWAKE) is an accelerator R&D project based at CERN. It is a proof-of-principle experiment investigating the use of plasma wakefields driven by a proton bunch to accelerate charged particles.
A plasma wakefield is a type of wave generated by particles travelling through a plasma. AWAKE sends proton beams through plasma cells to generate these fields. By harnessing wakefields, physicists may be able to produce accelerator gradients hundreds of times higher than those achieved in current radiofrequency cavities. This would allow future colliders to achieve higher energies over shorter distances than is possible today.
AWAKE uses proton beams from the Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS). These protons are injected into a 10-metre plasma cell to initiate strong wakefields. A second beam – the “witness” electron beam – would then be accelerated by the wakefields, gaining up to several gigavolts of energy. Following AWAKE's approval in autumn 2013, the first proton beams were sent to the plasma cell at the end of 2016. During the 2016–2017 run, strong wakefields generated by the proton beams in plasma were observed for the first time and studied in detail. Electrons were accelerated in these plasma wakefields for the first time in mid-2018.
AWAKE is the world’s first proton-driven plasma wakefield acceleration experiment. Besides demonstrating how protons can be used to generate wakefields, AWAKE will also develop the necessary technologies for long-term, proton-driven plasma acceleration projects.
AWAKE is an international scientific collaboration made up of 18 institutes and involving over 90 engineers and physicists (August 2018).