Berkeley Lab

Ion Beam Technology

Transformational Impact on the Needs of Science, Security, and Industry


The Ion Beam Technology Program integrates the Division’s multipart heritage of special expertise in ion sources, low-energy ion acceleration systems, and plasma science. Applications of our capabilities are remarkably wide-ranging: detecting hidden explosives and nuclear materials with neutron and gamma-ray generators, coating surfaces with hard protective films, making nanodevices and quantum computing, and treating certain cancers are just a few of the present or recent examples. Our goal: transformational impact in critical areas.

Plasma and Ion Source Technology

Research that began in magnetic fusion energy and was then applied to accelerator-based high energy and nuclear physics has led to a wide range of applications. At the heart of many of them is a family of simple, reliable ion sources that use radio-frequency power for induction heating of a plasma. In recent years this technology has been parlayed into simple, compact efficient neutron and gamma-ray generators for the security missions of DOE and other agencies.

Quantum Computing

Our ability to precisely control the size and energy of very small ion beams led to expertise in ion implantation and nanofabrication—exciting areas that are particularly applicable to quantum computing. A collaborative effort with the University of California-Berkeley is working on a silicon-based (“Kane”) approach to quantum computing. The IBT contribution is deeply infrastructural and oriented toward one possible pathway to quantum computing hardware: the use of electron spins of donor atoms in silicon as qubits.

Another effort is developing a non-silicon approach to quantum computing gates, based on nitrogen-vacancy (NV) defects in the crystal structure of diamond. This approach also uses qubits based on a single atom, thus its special appropriateness to IBT.

Plasma Applications

Another of IBT’s R&D enterprises, whose deep origins lie in the science and technology of the metal-vapor vacuum arc, the Plasma Applications Group. The group develops plasma technologies to deposit thin films, nanoparticles, and multilayer devices. Applications include synthesizing materials such as transparent conductors, and modifying surfaces with plasma and ion beam tools. One major interest is in processes and materials for energy-efficient, dynamic (switchable) “smart” windows. The technologies and techniques can be applied in many fields where special films or surfaces are needed.

One of their areas of expertise is applying unprecedentedly thin and even films of diamondlike carbon (DLC) for various purposes. One application of DLC films to protect the read-write heads of hard disks, was recognized with a 2009 R&D 100 award (along with industrial partner Veeco Instruments).

Accelerator “Front Ends”

One of our key responsibilities remains service to ion-accelerator-based projects in the Department of Energy and elsewhere.Thanks in large part to our work on the multi-laboratory Spallation Neutron Source (SNS) team, we have helped LBNL come to be regarded as the laboratory of choice for the technically challenging front end of an ion accelerator—the series of initial components that give a beam the highest-quality start. We stand ready to contribute to other national research priorities that can take advantage of these capabilities.

A Commitment to Partnering and Innovation

We actively seek out opportunities to apply these skills for transformational impact in critical areas of national and industrial need. Applications of such technology are remarkably wide-ranging: detecting hidden explosives and nuclear materials with neutron and gamma-ray generators, coating surfaces with hard protective films, making nanodevices, efficiently applying energy-efficiency coatings to large surfaces such as windows, and treating certain cancers are among the present or recent examples.

Illustrating the creativity and technology-transfer significance of our efforts, we recently shared in an R&D 100 award for the “High Output Neutron Generator” by Adelphi Technology, Inc. It is the 13th of these “Oscars of Innovation” that IBT and its predecessor programs have figured into since their first victory in 1985.

Fourteen US patents have been awarded to IBT staff since 2000.

Hosting visiting scientists and students from all over the world is another long tradition of IBT. Students form a vital part of that effort; 12 PhDs have been awarded since 1997 based on work performed in whole or in part in IBT.

Recent Publications

IBT Program researchers carry on their tradition of prolific publication in both the refereed literature and conference proceedings. In 2013 and 2014 to date they have had nn papers published or accepted by refereed journals and communicated their results in another nn conference presentations. Detailed lists are kept on the IBT Program’s own website and that of its Plasma Applications Group.

Fusion Energy Science, High Energy Density Physics, and NDCX-II

Another part of our program, described on a page of its own, focuses on heavy-ion linacs for inertial fusion energy, a longtime endeavor that has resulted in NDCX-II, a user facility for high-energy-density physics.