(Lansing State Journal, February 5, 1992)
Question submitted by: S. Smith of East Lansing
A cyclotron is a type of particle accelerator - a machine used to create high-speed beams of atomic or sub-atomic particle. All of the objects around us are made up of atoms, and the atoms in turn are composed of sub-atomic particles: electrons, neutrons and protons. Although entire atoms can be accelerated, we sometimes want to separate sub-atomic particles from their normal atomic environments and accelerate electrons in a straight line, causing them to smash against the inside face of the picture tube in a TV. The cyclotron accelerates electrically charged particles in a circular path. Each time the particles complete a lap, they gain speed until they travel to very near the speed of light.
At the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) at Michigan State University, cyclotrons are finding use in both basic research and important applications. A medical cyclotron, developed at the NSCL and now installed at Harper Hospital in Detroit, is being used to treat cancer. The installation of this machine represents an advance in that the medical cyclotron is small enough in both size and cost so that hospitals can by their own machines. Cyclotrons capable of detecting explosives in airline luggage or vehicles are under development.
The NSCL employs over 180 scientist, engineers and administrators, and plays host to dozens of visiting scientists from around the world who come to utilize this facility for their research.