Fire closes world's longest particle accelerator at Stanford

The world's longest particle accelerator, at Stanford University's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, has been shut down due to damage from an overnight fire.

A small fire that ignited Wednesday inside an electronic cabinet forced the closure of the two-mile-long accelerator, which is designed to study subatomic particles by accelerating electrons to "nearly the speed of light."


"We are hoping to have the accelerator back up and running soon," the laboratory's' spokesman Andrew Gordon said.

The extent of the damage, he said, was still not known.

Two facilities that rely on the accelerator for the study of atoms and molecules have also been closed.

One of those facilities takes snapshots of atoms and molecules while the other is a next-generation accelerator lab.

Firefighters were able to control a two-alarm blaze, which started about 9:45 p.m. in the 8-by-10-foot high-voltage electronic switchboard, said Division Chief Frank Fraone of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

Fire officials believe an electrical failure caused the blaze, sending a large plume of black smoke over nearby Interstate 280, he said.

Smoke blanketed the area for 15 to 20 minutes.

Firefighters used extinguishers to put out the blaze due to the sensitivity of the equipment.

Only a portion of the building was evacuated because scientists were actively working on experiments, Fraone said.

The laboratory, which opened in 1962, is one of 10 laboratories operated for the U.S. Department of Energy. The laboratory focuses on photon science, astrophysics, accelerator and particle physics research.

Six scientists have been awarded Nobel prizes for their work in physics at the center.

For breaking news in Los Angeles and California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA, or email her at