particle accelerator, apparatus used in nuclear physics to produce beams of energetic charged particles and to direct them against various targets. Such machines, popularly called atom smashers, are needed to observe objects as small as the atomic nucleus in studies of its structure and of the forces that hold it together. Accelerators are also needed to provide enough energy to create new particles. Besides pure research, accelerators have practical applications in medicine and industry, most notably in the production of radioisotopes. A majority of the world's particle accelerators are situated in the United States, either at major universities or national laboratories. In Europe the principal facility is at CERN near Geneva, Switzerland; in Russia important installations exist at Dubna and Serpukhov.
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