ITALY has returned to the forefront of nuclear particle research with the first successful trial run this week of a radically innovative double annular particle accelerator at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFI) research centre in Frascati, outside Rome.
The accelerator, the first of its kind, has been christened DAFNE for Double Annular Factory for Nice Experiments - where "nice" means "precise".
The new accelerator works on the principle, pioneered at Frascati in the 1960s, of accelerating both the electrons and the positrons and then bringing them into collision. This is an improvement on the method used in existing accelerators such as at Cern in Geneva, in which an electron is "shot" at a static positron. The theory was developed at Frascati by Austrian physicist Bruno Touschek.
A similar accelerator to that in Frascati is being built at Stanford University in California following the scrapping of its costly attempt to set up a Cern-type accelerator.
The Frascati accelerator has been given a positive evaluation by an international panel of leading physicists brought in to carry out an independent "audit" of INFI's research. The panel consists of Burton Richter from the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and 1976 Nobel Prize winner for work on the charm quark, Paul Kienle from the Technische Universitat Munchen, Volker Soergel from the Werner-Heisenberg-Institut and Graham Ross, professor of theoretical physics at Oxford University.
"This is the first accelerator of a new generation," Professor Ross said. "It definitely puts Italy back in the forefront of research in this field. It goes for very high luminance, very high intensity of particles to perform experiments of very high precision. This is particularly important in the study of CP violation. This is the first of a type of machine which should shed light on matter and anti-matter origins in the universe."
Professor Richter lauded Italy's initiative in building DAFNE:"Italian science has always had good international relations, and is becoming much more international as time goes on." He added he was "impressed by the way people from the universities had worked in close collaboration with the skilled and ingenious technicians who solved the practical problems of construction".
Gaetano Vignola, project leader, said that the cost was only 120.4 billion lire (Pounds 44 million). The project started in 1991.
Luigi Berlinguer, Italy's minister for universities and scientific research, vowed to "support and protect a sector of scientific research in which Italy is a leader, to protect a scientific, cultural and economic investment of great importance".