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Electron beam welding is about to get easier as scientists have discovered a way to create a particle beam accelerator to do four different tasks at the push of a button.

The terahertz radiation source can accelerate, compress focus and analyse electron beams and has been dubbed the Swiss army knife of electron beam engineering. Terahertz are between microwaves and infrared on the electromagnetic spectrum.

The beam is incredibly precise, just a few millimetres across, and specific timing is a key feature of this invention. A paper revealing the findings was published in Nature Photonics last month.

Named the Segmented Terahertz Electron Accelerator and Manipulator (STEAM) it was developed by developers from the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL).

"To do this, we take an infrared laser pulse and split it up," explains first author Dongfang Zhang from the group of Franz Kärtner at CFEL.

The incredibly precise timing of the model allows the action of the electron beam to be determined by why it hits the electric field.

"For instance, a bunch that hits the negative part of the Terahertz electric field is accelerated," explains Zhang.

"Other parts of the wave lead to focusing or defocusing of the bunch or to a compression by a factor of ten or so."

The technology is still at an experimental stage but we are very excited about the potential applications for this new invention.