CERN Accelerating science

From laser alignment to laser communication

CERN Student Entrepreneurship Programme 2019, which featured the Structured Laser Beam. (Image: CERN)


CERN and Aircision, a CERN spin-off company, have signed an agreement for the application of a bespoke laser system developed for general alignment purposes in the context of the High Intensity and Energy ISOLDE (HIE-ISOLDE), a new superconducting linear accelerator that will upgrade CERN’s Isotope mass Separator On-Line (ISOLDE) radioactive beam facility. The Dutch start-up intends to use the technology, called Structured Laser Beam, using its ability of producing almost non-diffractive beams to empower future telecommunication frameworks.

As global data transfers are expected to increase tenfold from 2018 to 2024, the telecommunication infrastructure needs to scale up accordingly. However, available connecting technologies, such as microwaves and optical fibers, either require restrictive licenses or are expensive to deploy.

A possible alternative has emerged from the work developed by a team of CERN surveyors in collaboration with the Institute of Plasma Physics (IPP) in Prague. The result is a novel laser solution called Structured Laser Beam. “Although originally discovered during the development of an alignment system for the HIE-ISOLDE accelerator, the optical properties demonstrated by this technology show great potential for other high-precision applications, including free-space optical communications,” explains Miroslav Šulc (IPP), one of the two system inventors.

The Structured Laser Beam is unique because it is capable of generating almost non-diffractive laser beams. Such beams are composed of a central axis with very low divergence and tunable concentric rings. “The apparatus could be particularly valuable for aligning magnets at CERN, since the central axis of the laser measures only a few tenths of a millimeter in diameter even at very long distances, unlike currently available alignment solutions,” says Jean-Christophe Gayde, the second inventor and an engineer in the Experiment Survey and Alignment Section (Survey, Mechatronics and Measurements Group) of the Engineering Department at CERN.

The complete system is comprised of a coherent laser source (commercially available), a focusing element, and either a cylindrical or a spherical lens. It can be made extremely compact (to the size of a matchbox) and is easily adjustable for different scenarios. The lenses can be used with source lasers spanning a wide range of wavelengths; the beam geometry can be extensively tuned, as the diameter of the central axis and the number and thickness of the surrounding circles are adjustable.

Due to these characteristics, the structured laser beam shows great potential of deployment in a wide range of fields, from 3D and laser scanning to interferometry and even medical applications. “This system can provide solutions aligned with the technological needs of different markets”, explains Filipe Ramos, who works as a Knowledge Transfer Officer at CERN. “This flexibility played an immense role in securing resources for its development through the CERN Knowledge Transfer Fund, our internal funding mechanism for projects that have applications outside of high-energy physics.”

Aircision has recognized the value of this laser beam generator and is interested in applying it to the next-generation links in the telecom market. The final solution would ensure high-speed free-space optical communication between cell towers, which is a critical step towards modernizing the existing infrastructure for 5G and beyond.

“The collaboration is part of a wider effort by the Knowledge Transfer Group to maximize the application of technologies developed at CERN and their positive impact in society,” explains Filipe Ramos. The start-up hopes to finalize their prototype and deploy a pilot test in 2020, and is already looking at other applications of the structured laser beam outside of telecommunications.

Read more about Aircision and this project in their press release at:

Panagiotis Charitos (CERN)
Science transcends boundaries
8 Dec 2017

Science transcends boundaries

European and Japanese collaboration in the framework of the FCC study was highlighted during Science Agora 2017

Vitaliy Goryashko (Uppsala University), Georgii Shamuilov (Uppsala University), Peter Salén (Uppsala University), David Dunning (Cockcroft Institute, STFC), Neil Thompson (Cockcroft Institute, STFC), Brian W. J. McNeil (STFC , UPA Strathclyde)
Towards single-cycle attosecond light from accelerators
21 Mar 2019

Towards single-cycle attosecond light from accelerators

New concepts build upon a strong link between linear accelerators, FELs and quantum lasers.

Daniela Antonio (CERN)
Budapest welcomes the 2nd ARIES Annual Meeting
16 Jul 2019

Budapest welcomes the 2nd ARIES Annual Meeting

ARIES Annual Meeting highlights reports from networks, transnational access, proof-of-concept projects, workshops and a special session on accelerator science applied to medicine.

Power converters specially designed for CERN can now be used by the wider accelerator community

The SOLEIL synchrotron facilities in Paris, France. (Image: SOLEIL)

The Electrical Power Converters (EPC) Group at CERN has developed new software layers to allow the broader particle accelerator community to use the CERN-specific power converters controls.

Power converters are a fundamental part of CERN’s accelerator complex, allowing it to function properly. In particle accelerators, the particle beams are guided by powerful magnets and are accelerated in metallic chambers called radiofrequency cavities. More than five thousand power converters electrically power both these structures. Many different types are needed, ranging in power from a few watts to more than one hundred megawatts. Some produce a steady current or voltage, while others must ramp, or pulse synchronously with all the other equipment in the accelerator. Therefore, the effective operation of each power converter depends on high-performance digital controls that regulate the current in the circuit.

Since the creation of the LHC, CERN power converters use specialised control computers called Function Generator/Controllers (FGCs), integrated into the power converters. An associated FGC software framework was developed to integrate the FGC hardware into CERN’s accelerator controls environment, which is unique to CERN. With the new software stack, the FGC hardware can now be integrated in the TANGO and EPICS control environments, which are the most common control frameworks used at other accelerator infrastructures. This update will open the door for FGCs and CERN-designed power converters to be deployed to other accelerator facilities, such as synchrotrons.

The project to integrate FGCs into the EPICS and TANGO frameworks was conceived in 2014 and resulted in the successful transfer of FGC converter controls to a European manufacturer, who supplied the new power converter to the main cyclotron magnet of the TRIUMF laboratory in 2018. In 2019, CERN provided power converter technology and the associated converter controls to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF). TRIUMF uses EPICS while ESRF uses TANGO.

Thanks to its potential for future technology transfer, the FGC update was one of the five projects selected to receive funding from the KT Fund in 2019. The objective is to continue the FGC framework integration with more commonly used control environments in the context of a collaboration agreement between CERN and SOLEIL.

During the first phase of this collaboration, CERN provided training and lent a standalone FGC and a small power converter controlled by an FGC to SOLEIL. “The SOLEIL upgrade builds on previous experience, gradually moving to a unified controls’ environment for which the FGC framework is particularly suitable,” explains Nick Ziogas, Knowledge Transfer Officer at CERN. In 2020, during phase 2 of the collaboration, eleven controllers of existing commercial power converters installed at the SOLEIL synchrotron (Paris, France) will be replaced by FGCs. SOLEIL intends to procure 1,700 power converters with digital controllers by 2025 for its major upgrade to higher brilliance and these could hopefully be CERN designs using FGC for controls.

At a time when the broader high-energy physics community debates the next-generation of accelerator machines, many laboratories have major upgrades in store for the next decades, aiming to achieve a performance that could lead to more complex science. This means higher luminosity in colliders and higher brilliance in light sources and, therefore, an upgrade of the accelerator infrastructure.

“The FGC framework comes with a powerful software stack that allows for monitoring and diagnosis of faults and the automatic configuration of the controllers following a change of hardware components,” explains Quentin King, head of the Converter Controls Software Section in the EPC Group. “Powerful management tools are vital when large numbers of converter controllers are used. This is a major requirement from all light sources: to have good insight and understanding of what is happening in their power converters.”

The integration of CERN’s FGC framework with the most common accelerator control frameworks, including TANGO, results in an important knowledge transfer opportunity, since it allows the power converters specifically developed for CERN to be used by both partner laboratories and industry, in fields from particle physics to medical and biomedical research.


The CERN Knowledge Transfer Fund is a tool to bridge the gap between research and industry. It selects innovative projects based on a CERN technology with high potential for positive societal impact beyond high-energy physics. The fund is supported in part through revenues from commercial agreements concluded by CERN's Knowledge Transfer Group.

Francisco Sanchez Galan
P8 towards HL-LHC thanks to a new absorber
20 Oct 2019

P8 towards HL-LHC thanks to a new absorber

The first definitive component of the High-Luminosity LHC has been installed, in a prime example of collaboration across different groups.

Corinne Pralavorio
News from LS2: Dissipating the electron clouds
20 Oct 2019

News from LS2: Dissipating the electron clouds

Two teams are treating the vacuum chambers of selected SPS magnets to limit the electron-cloud phenomenon, which can disrupt the beams.

Alessandro Bertarelli (CERN)
High thermal performance materials
8 Oct 2018

High thermal performance materials

ARIES has launched an extensive characterization campaign of a broad range of high thermal performance materials for applications in future particle accelerators and the industry.

Using CERN magnet technology in innovative cancer treatment

The new compact non-rotating gantry design enables the treatment of tumours from different angles using superconducting toroidal magnets (Image: Daniel Dominguez/CERN)

Derived from developments in accelerators, detectors and computing, the state-of-the-art technologies behind particle physics have historically contributed to innovations in medical technologies. CERN’s latest addition to this is GaToroid, a novel superconducting and lightweight gantry that can surround a patient and potentially revolutionise the delivery of hadrons for therapies, including cancer treatment.

Hadron therapy is an advanced radiotherapy technique that uses proton or ion beams to deliver precision treatment of tumours, sparing the surrounding healthy tissues from unwanted radiation. The intrinsic precision of this technique makes it particularly suitable for treating tumours in children or close to organs at risk. Furthermore, using rotating gantries to move the beam around the patient, medical doctors can irradiate the tumours from different angles, sparing even more of the surrounding tissue.

Gantries are complex pieces of engineering, representing a considerable part of the installation costs and size, or footprint, in hadron therapy. Particularly for carbon ions, there are only two gantries in the world. The first one is at the Heidelberg Ion-Beam Therapy Center in Germany, measuring 25 metres in length and weighing more than 600 tonnes. The second one, in Chiba, Japan, is a superconducting gantry with a reduced size and weight, but with the added challenge of a rotating cryogenic system. While the therapeutic interest for carbon or other ions heavier than protons is increasing, the enormous size of today’s gantries, combined with the lack of viable standard technological solutions, poses relevant constraints on future hadron-therapy facilities.

Well aware of these challenges, CERN scientist and magnet expert Luca Bottura came up with a new, innovative gantry design based on a toroidal magnet concept, GaToroid, which bends the treatment beam without the need to rotate the structure. The gantry comprises a set of fixed, discrete superconducting coils constituting the toroidal magnet, and a bending device at the entrance of the structure to direct the beam at the right angle. Due to the use of superconductors, GaToroid will substantially reduce weight and footprint compared to conventional gantries, especially for ion beams. This invention was not the output of a dedicated research study, but a result of serendipity coming from Luca’s connection to other fields of applied science and his own professional experience.



This animation shows how the superconducting toroidal magnets around the patient are used to direct an incoming hadron beam at the right angle to treat a tumour (Video: Daniel Dominguez/CERN)

Luca Bottura, who leads CERN’s Magnets, Superconductors and Cryostats group, illustrated his innovative design for a hadron therapy gantry based on a toroidal magnet. He presented his idea at the last Knowledge Transfer Seminar, GaToroid: A Novel Superconducting Compact and Lightweight Gantry for Hadron Therapy, which took place on 22 November at CERN. The recording of the event is easily accessible at:

This article was published at in 20 November 2018.

Outi Heloma (CERN), Isabel Bejar Alonso (CERN)
Education for innovation in Hilumi and FCC
6 Mar 2018

Education for innovation in Hilumi and FCC

What’s in it for innovators in Hilumi and FCC? Twenty young researchers interested in innovation and entrepreneurship participated in this two-day course.

Rama Calaga (CERN)
World’s first crabbing of a proton beam
26 Jun 2018

World’s first crabbing of a proton beam

The first test of the HL-LHC crab cavities to rotate a beam of protons was performed last month at CERN.

Nicholas Sammut (University of Malta)
Setting up a South-East Europe International Institute for Sustainable Technologies
2 Mar 2018

Setting up a South-East Europe International Institute for Sustainable Technologies

CERN’s model of ‘science for peace’ is being adopted in the set up of a new research infrastructure: The South-East Europe International Institute for Sustainable Technologies (SEEIIST).

ATS-KT Innovation Days

On 26th October 2018, the Accelerator and Technology sector (ATS) and the Knowledge Transfer (KT) group jointly hosted the first ATS-KT Innovation Day, in which members of ATS personnel presented their ideas for new technologies and services that have potential application outside of high-energy physics. The day provided the participants with the opportunity to raise awareness of their ideas and to receive feedback.

Several of the participants have subsequently made applications to the Knowledge Transfer Fund – a tool to help bridge the gap between research and industry. In December, they will pitch their ideas to a selection committee composed of CERN’s department heads and members of the CERN KT group.

From the Beams (BE) department the presentations included new hardware and software for monitoring and maintaining safety, beam monitors and related electronics for use in research and medical accelerators, a high reliability DC/DC converter, and a monitoring solution for Parkinson’s disease.

From Engineering (EN), a radiation tolerant wireless Internet of Things platform for on-field sensor data acquisition was presented, with potential applications in nuclear power plants and aerospace.

Personnel from the Technology (TE) department presented ideas across a broad spectrum of technical domains, including sensors and diagnostics for magnet systems, a novel process for manufacturing Non-Evaporable Getter coated beam pipes, a movable cylindrical magnetron sputtering source, techniques for using Shape Memory Alloy connectors for Ultra High Vacuum and High Pressure systems, and a residual gas analysing tool using machine-learning.

Finally, from the AT Directorate Office, a low noise and high sensitivity device for monitoring seismic activity was presented, with potential use as an alerting system for earthquakes.

All presentations from the ATS-KT Innovation Day are available on Indico:

FCC Innovation Day

The international symposium on Particle Colliders: Accelerators of Innovation will take place in Liverpool, on Friday, 22 March 2019. The University of Liverpool and CERN, together with partners from the FCC/EuroCirCol projects and the EASITrain MSCA network, are delighted to host a symposium to showcase the science and technology challenges related to such a global project. The aim of this special event is to explore the opportunities for co-innovation between a variety of industries including energy, health, security, transport, IT, communications, and civil engineering, as well as cryogenics, detectors and accelerator technology.

The symposium will take place at the prestigious Liverpool Arena and Convention Centre near the famous Albert Dock. The event will feature talks by keynote speakers, an industry exhibition, as well as hands-on activities for the general public.

This is an ideal opportunity to get involved in one of the largest scientific and technological endeavours of the 21st century. You can register now and secure a place via the following website:

D. Gamba, A. Curcio, R. Corsini (CERN)
First experimental results from the CLEAR facility at CERN
3 Jul 2018

First experimental results from the CLEAR facility at CERN

Flexibility and versatility, together with a dynamic and experienced team of researchers, are key ingredients for the growing success of the new CLEAR facility, exploring novel accelerator concepts at CERN.

Panos Charitos (CERN)
A big step towards the superconducting magnets of the future
28 Jun 2018

A big step towards the superconducting magnets of the future

FRESCA2 reaches an important milestone, a magnetic field of 14.6 T a record for a magnet with a “free” aperture

Panagiotis Charitos (CERN)
EASIschool '18: A summer to remember
8 Oct 2018

EASIschool '18: A summer to remember

A unique learning experience for the participants of the first school organized by EASITrain, this summer in Vienna.

A reverse hackathon with CERN

Participants at the CERN Hackathon in July. (Credit: HighTechXL)

Six high-tech business teams were selected to explore business solutions for CERN technologies within the HighTechXL Accelerator Program. They presented their winning projects during the CERN Hackathon in the Netherlands, organised jointly by CERN, Nikhef, and HighTechXL. The teams will now go on to explore technologies connected to novel lasers, accelerator technology, and cooling systems and their applications to industrial applications for satellite communication, medical technology and high stability cooling.

They will spend the next three months at the HighTech Campus in the Netherlands, an accelerator programme designed exclusively for advanced-technology and hardware entrepreneurs, and part of the Eindhoven Brainport Ecosystem. “The Brainport region and its density of ultra-high-tech companies, such as Philips and ASML, is the obvious place to bring together innovators and CERN technology. We have selected technologies that fit well with this ecosystem to have as much synergy as possible,” said Dr. Jan Visser, industrial liaison officer for CERN from Nikhef.

The CERN Hackathon was centred on promising CERN technologies and sought to recruit highly motivated teams capable of imagining relevant commercial applications for them. The process challenged the usual start-up accelerator approach, which is generally focused on a customer or solution. With this initiative, CERN and Nikhef hope to tap into this high tech community by providing leading technologies backed by CERN’s research prestige to find new applications. HighTechXL uses its network to attract participants with the relevant technical affinity and business acumen. “This collaboration provides a unique opportunity for high-tech industry experts to become founding members of new fast-growing high-tech companies,” said HighTechXL founder Guus Frericks.

The CERN, Nikhef, HighTechXL collaboration kicked off on July 2 with 100 participants, the best from the pool of candidates. CERN has been working for several years to develop a culture of entrepreneurship, either by bringing its technology to entrepreneurs, or by bringing entrepreneurs to CERN. This entrepreneurship ecosystem is developed through programmes such as the CERN Entrepreneurship Meet-Ups (EM-Us), the CERN Entrepreneurship Student Programme (CESP), and through CERN’s network of Business Incubation Centres (BICs), which exist in ten of CERN’s Member States. Since early 2018, CERN and Nikhef have been revitalising the Dutch BIC by looking for new ways to explore the significant potential of certain CERN’s technologies and decided to collaborate with HighTechXL, whose purpose is to create and support start-ups around state-of-the-art technology.

“CERN technologies are complex and state-of-the art, and they could have revolutionary potential. One has to go very deep to understand, yet the reward can be significant,” says Han Dols, working at the CERN Knowledge Transfer Group. “The motivation and commitment of the teams is impressive, especially knowing some are, at this stage, participating on top of their daily jobs. Clearly they recognize this programme as a unique chance to build a business from these beautiful CERN technologies.”

The technologies that will be further explored in the HighTechXL Accelerator Program are: evaporative cooling using carbon dioxide (CO2), long-distance structured laser beam (SLB), and a novel compact high frequency radio-frequency quadrupole (HF-RFQ) linear particle accelerator. These technologies served as inspiration for the winning teams High Tech Cooling, Microspot, Modular Energies, Dynaxion and Dynaxion 2. Participation in the programme gives them access to an array of experts in law, funding, design, communication, and business. “The knowledge we have in the BIC Network about start-ups, creating effective teams, financing, etc., as well as the broad network of collaborators and mentors at our disposal, tell us that these teams should be able to convert their ideas into realistic business opportunities,” explains Dr. Visser. At the end of the programme, they will pitch to an investor audience made up of large companies from the Eindhoven ecosystem and venture capitalists.

What sort of solutions can come from CERN’s tech?

To cite only some of the proposed solutions, High Tech Cooling plans to tap into evaporative cooling using carbon dioxide (CO2) to control the temperature of high-tech devices to very high stabilities with minimal variety over the object to be cooled. This technology can use very small pipes enabling new applications, and can be supplied from a long distance. In addition, it has a much lower negative impact on the environment, as it uses CO2 instead of fluorocarbon refrigerants.

Modular Energies addresses the difficult access to radioisotopes - for example, in smaller or more remote hospitals - to improve access to certain types of diagnostics. By using the modest size of the compact high frequency radio-frequency quadrupole (HF-RFQ) linear particle accelerator, Modular Energies plans to enable hospitals with access to radioisotopes through the low cost of ownership, high uptime, ease of use, short installation time, low weight, high radiation safety, compact size, and even installation in existing housing. Currently, the team is looking for high tech equipment developers, an applied physicist who can start the testing phase and enjoys doing simulations, and for someone with a business background.    

Microspot, as a final example of these technological applications, addresses the increasing demand for data processing capacity and proposes the solution might be satellite communication. The team projects to use a long-distance structured laser beam (SLB) for inter-satellite communication, using the fact that laser beams are characterized by little divergence over long distances, and proposing the SLB might deliver a faster, more secure, lighter, and cheaper way for data transmission between satellites compared to current solutions. Currently, the team is looking for people with technical backgrounds to work full- or part-time, preferably from a telecommunications and/or satellite systems background.

Tessa Charles (University of Melbourne)
Synchrotrons on the frontline
26 Mar 2020

Synchrotrons on the frontline

Tessa Charles describes the impressive progress being made by synchrotron X-ray facilities to solve the structure of SARS-CoV-2 — a first step towards the development of drugs and vaccines.

Alexandra Welsch, Samantha Colosimo, Javier Resta López (University of Liverpool)
Accelerating Learning
8 Oct 2018

Accelerating Learning

Summer events held at CERN boost knowledge and collaboration. The events were coordinated by the QUASAR Group.

Philippe Lebrun, JUAS Director
25th edition of Joint Universities Accelerator School
13 Mar 2018

25th edition of Joint Universities Accelerator School

Twenty-five years of training accelerator scientists and going from strength to strength