Illinois Accelerator Research Center

Accelerators and Society

Physicists have been inventing new types of accelerators to propel charged particles to higher and higher energies for more than 80 years. Today, besides their role in scientific discovery, scientists estimate that more than 30,000 accelerators are at work worldwide in areas ranging from diagnosing and treating disease to powering industrial processes.

The accelerators of tomorrow promise still greater opportunities. Next-generation particle beams represent cheaper, greener alternatives to traditional industrial processes. They can give us clean energy through safer nuclear power, with far less waste. They can clean up polluted air and water; deliver targeted cancer treatment with minimal side effects; and contribute to the development of new materials. As tools for inspecting cargo, accelerators can strengthen the nation's security.

By positioning Illinois and Fermilab to become the new global center of accelerator science and engineering, IARC presents an unparalleled opportunity to develop and share the known and still unexplored benefits of particle accelerators.

Benefits to Society


Each generation of particle accelerators and detectors builds on the previous one, raising the potential for discovery and pushing the level of technology ever higher. In 1930, Ernest O. Lawrence, the father of particle accelerators, built the first hand-held cyclotron at Berkeley, California. Larger and more powerful accelerators soon followed. After a day's research, Lawrence often operated the Berkeley cyclotrons through the night to produce medical isotopes for research and treatment. In 1938, Lawrence's mother became the first cancer patient to be treated successfully with particles from cyclotrons. Now, doctors use particle beams for the diagnosis and healing of millions of patients. From the earliest days of high energy physics in the 1930s to the latest 21st-century initiatives, the bold and innovative ideas and technologies of particle physics have entered the mainstream of society to transform the way we live.

Some applications of particle physics-the superconducting wire and cable at the heart of magnetic resonance imaging magnets, the World Wide Web are so familiar they are almost clichés. But particle physics has myriad lesser-known impacts. Few outside the community of experts who study the behavior of fluids in motion have probably heard of the particle detector technology that revolutionized the study of fluid turbulence in fuel flow.

What is unique to particle physics is the scale of the science: the size and complexity not only of accelerators and detectors but also of scientific collaborations. For example, superconducting magnets existed before Fermilab's Tevatron but the scale of the accelerator made the production of such magnets an industrial process, which led to the economical MRI machine. The World Wide Web was invented to solve the problem of communicating in an international collaboration of thousands of physicists. The scale on which particle physicists work pushes them beyond what many other sciences do.

Opportunities for Illinois

IARC will provide the opportunity for Illinois to become a world leader in accelerator technology. In partnership with the Department of Energy's Office of High Energy Physics, the designated steward of the nation's program for accelerator science and technology, IARC will position Illinois to become a global center for the development of accelerator physics and engineering, medical accelerators, beam diagnostics and instrumentation, superconducting and high-power radiofrequency technology, next-generation synchrotron light sources and isotope generation. With a strong focus on industrialization of these technologies, IARC will attract high-tech companies and train Illinois citizens in advanced technologies.

IARC will develop world-leading educational programs in key aspects of accelerator physics and engineering. As an educational center and working with accelerator programs at nearby universities, IARC will offer advanced educational opportunities to Illinois and attract scholars from around the world. These top scientists will perform world-class research, educate and mentor Illinois students. Regional universities, including the University of Chicago, University of Illinois, Illinois Institute of Technology, Northern Illinois University and Northwestern University all have active research programs at Fermilab and Argonne. By providing state-of-the-art facilities for visiting scientists, students and industrial partners, IARC will strengthen Fermilab's and Argonne's links to Illinois universities and industry.

The project will also bring immediate economic benefits to the 1.4 million residents of Kane and DuPage counties by creating approximately 80 construction jobs in Illinois. Federal funding for accelerator development at Fermilab will create or continue to support about 200 Illinois high-tech jobs. The number of new industrial jobs created in Illinois as a result of industrial accelerator development at IARC is potentially much larger.


Selected examples from medicine, homeland security, industry, computing, science, and workforce development illustrate a long and growing list of beneficial practical applications with contributions from particle physics.


Particle accelerators and detectors first developed for particle physics are now used by every major medical center in the nation to treat and diagnose millions of patients.

Homeland security

From scanning cargo in ports to monitoring nuclear waste, the same advanced detector technology that physicists use to analyze particles can also better protect the nation.


Particle physicists rely on industry to produce and advance the millions of components that experiments require, putting companies on a fast-track towards new products and life-changing technologies.


To record and analyze the unprecedented volumes of data generated in particle collisions, particle physicists develop cutting-edge computing technology, making key contributions to solutions at the frontiers of computer science.


Particle physicists need cutting-edge tools; many of these, such as the synchrotron light source, benefit other areas of science.

Workforce Development

The majority of students who gain their PhDs in particle physics go on to work for high-tech industry, financial institutions and information technology businesses.

A Growing List

The science and technology of particle physics have transformational applications for many other areas of benefit to the nation's well-being.

Last modified: 02/09/2015 |