It’s a setting straight out of a sci-fi movie: a massive orange machine set in a laboratory with grids of computers, serpentine wires connecting different gadgets, and buttons to control them all.
The John E. Edwards Accelerator Lab at Ohio University in Athens is the stuff of science nerd fantasies. It is home to a rare 4.5 million-volt tandem accelerator that rushes atomic particles to energies up to 14 percent of the speed of light, making it tremendously powerful and useful for research.
Hidden in a hillside within the campus, the high-voltage accelerator is protected by 4-foot-thick, high-intensity cement walls, designed in a unique ‘T’ configuration, where the charging system runs vertically and the beams horizontally. It was started with a $1 million dollar grant in 1967 and has been used for hundreds of projects by professors and students of the university, from discovering how neutrons can be used to treat diseases such as brain cancer, to designing nuclear reactors, computer chips, semiconductors, and aerospace and automotive machinery.
While many research facilities use particle accelerators, there is only one other accelerator with the same design and high energy range, and it is also located in Athens—in Greece.