AWAKE explores the use of plasma to accelerate particles to high energies over short distances

The Advanced Proton Driven Plasma Wakefield Acceleration 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.

Edda Gschwendtner presents her ideas on how the concept of ‘surfing’ wakefields could be used to create smaller accelerators in the future (Video: TEDx)

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) in the CERN Neutrinos to Gran Sasso (CNGS) facility. These protons will be 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. In 2018, electrons will be generated in these plasma wakefields.

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 16 institutes and involving over 80 engineers and physicists (November 2017).