An American physicist, R. J. Van de Graaff, developed one of the first particle accelerators in the early 1930’s, which is known as the Van de Graaff generator, electrostatic generator. This device accelerates electrons to produce high energy radiation. Initially, the generator was capable of producing X-radiation in the 1 to 2 MeV range. Continued design changes produced even higher energies.

The generator operates by projecting electrons onto a moving belt. The electrons ride on the belt and are collected at the opposite end on a high voltage terminal. Here, a heated filament supplies electrons for acceleration. A glass/metal tube with a vacuum provides a path for particle acceleration away from the high voltage terminal. At the end of the tube is a target, whereby the accelerated particles can interact producing high energy radiation.

Not long after the development of the Van de Graaff generator, it was determined that charged particles could be accelerated to very high speeds by driving them in a circular path. This was accomplished by the application of strong electromagnets. A variety of these have been developed to produce even higher energy radiation than that of the Van de Graaff generator.


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