Science and Technology

EuPRAXIA: another step towards the first plasma-based particle accelerator

In 2015, an international consortium of 41 laboratories was created with the objective of designing a new European plasma accelerator infrastructure. The project EuPRAXIA would become the world’s first electron accelerator for users based on plasma technology. This project, coordinated by the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY), has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

The EuPRAXIA consortium culminated its work in 2020 with the submission of a Conceptual Design Report (CDR) to the European Commission. The EuPRAXIA CDR has now been made publicly available with its publication in the European Physical Journal Special Topics.

With more than 600 pages and 250 contributors, the CDR is a lasting milestone for novel plasma accelerators, the fruit of an outstanding collaborative, interdisciplinary and multi-institutional effort, of which the Group of Lasers and Plasmas of the Institute for Plasmas and Nuclear Fusion (GoLP-IPFN) was part.

Técnico, through GoLP-IPFN, developed novel sophisticated and highly computationally efficient numerical algorithms to predict the performance of plasma based accelerators for EuPRAXIA. “By performing high fidelity numerical calculations that mimicked realistic experimental conditions, we were able to demonstrate the feasibility of critical plasma acceleration components within EuPRAXIA, explains Jorge Vieira, Técnico professor at the Department of Physics (DF) and one of the researchers involved in the project. “On the experimental side, Técnico developed advanced targetry for plasma based accelerators and their applications with broad application in EuPRAXIA”, he adds.

According to professor Jorge Vieira “this work has set the stage for a sustained involvement in major pan-European developments devoted to advanced plasma accelerators, and to expand the scope of the scientific contributions at IST from pure theory and simulations to applied experimental developments”.

Revolutionary ultra-compact accelerators

The report contains a detailed description of the EuPRAXIA Infrastructure, the laser systems, RF accelerators, and plasma injectors for both a laser-driven and a beam-driven plasma accelerator, as well as the magnets, beam transport and diagnostic systems needed to drive a Free Electron Laser.

The report also contains a thorough analysis of the opportunities of EuPRAXIA for innovation, and the preliminary models for project implementation, cost and schedule that would allow operation of the full EuPRAXIA facility within 8 – 10 years.

More compact and efficient, the plasma-based technologies have the potential to bring a new paradigm for particle accelerators, multiplying applications in medicine, biology, materials science and industry.

The EuPRAXIA project offers a significant reduction in size and possible savings in cost over current state-of-the-art radiofrequency-based accelerators. The plans of EuPRAXIA include the setup of Europe’s most Southern free-electron laser in the Metropolitan area of Rome. “This will support European science and innovation in new areas and will provide much needed opportunities for the next generation of scientists”, says DESY coordinator Ralph Assmann.

The EuPRAXIA consortium has now signed an agreement for the next phase of the project. In parallel EuPRAXIA has applied to the ESFRI roadmap process for European research infrastructures, supported by five European countries at government level with Italy as lead country. The project has been found eligible for the ESFRI roadmap update in 2021 and is presently under ESFRI review for a decision in late Spring or Summer 2021.

Técnico is also involved in ESFRI roadmap with the objective of implementing the concept established by the EuPRAXIA consortium with the construction of the first experimental infrastructure for the applications of plasma accelerators. “In this scope, Técnico’s proposal is to host a theory and simulation centre of excellence for the advancement of science and technology of plasma accelerators,” says Luís Oliveira e Silva, Técnico professor and GoLP researcher.