By Keerthi Chandrashekar / ( | First Posted: Sep 28, 2013 04:08 PM EDT

The key to the accelerator chips is tiny, precisely spaced ridges, which cause the iridescence seen in this close-up photo. (Photo : Matt Beardsley, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory)

A new advance in accelerator technology has scientists creating tiny glass chips smaller than a grain of rice that can power electrons up to speeds 10 times faster than present-day conventional technology can.

Experts from Stanford University and U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) SLAC National Accelerator detailed their glass chip accelerator research in a study in the journal Nature. The researchers reveal that they are able to achieve such incredible acceleration in such small distances by using commercial lasers to speed up the electrons instead of microwaves, which are typically used. 

These new chips offer an unprecedented level of acceleration, clocking in 300 million electronvolts per meter. By comparison, that's around 10 times the acceleration of the SLAC linear accelerator, which requires two miles to achieve what the tiny chip accelerators can do in 100 feet.

"We still have a number of challenges before this technology becomes practical for real-world use, but eventually it would substantially reduce the size and cost of future high-energy particle colliders for exploring the world of fundamental particles and forces," said Joel England, the SLAC physicist who led the experiments.

"It could also help enable compact accelerators and X-ray devices for security scanning, medical therapy and imaging, and research in biology and materials science."

The small chips, which can be linked together to form more intense pathways, offer scientists an exciting new frontier. The researchers involved in the study are hoping that the technology can be harnessed for both medical and scientific purposes. They also stress that much work has to be done before these chips can become tabletop accelerators, namely in the area concerning how the electrons enter the chip in the first place.

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