"The world's been trying to create particle accelerators at table-top scales for a decade now using lasers, but no one till now has managed one for neutral particles," TIFR team leader, Professor M Krishnamurthy told HT. "We're the first."
Particle accelerators - like the one at CERN in Geneva where scientists announced last year that they may have found the Higgs Boson - are typically mammoth doughnut-shaped machines, often several kilometres in diameter.
But over the past 10 years, as applications of high-powered particle beams have increased - ranging from cancer treatment to understanding the fundamental laws of nature - scientists across the world have worked on crunching sizes of these accelerators to small scales.
Scientists have developed a series of accelerators that use electric fields to propel electrons - charged particles - to high speeds. But charged particles are inferior to accelerated neutral particles in fine electronic gadgetry.
Krishnamurthy's student R Rajeev, in his PhD research, managed to show that atoms could be stripped of electrons, accelerated through high speeds and then reunited with the electrons at those speeds - all in a few millimetres.
The concept devised by the TIFR scientists is also nearly 100% efficient - it manages to reconvert all the ions back to neutral atoms after their acceleration.