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Electron particle beams are quite interesting weapons. What they shoot would look like a lightning bolt, and the beam keeps itself focused in an atmosphere. However the bremsstrahlung the weapons would produce and the fact that the beam may wander, as it does not always maintain its direction, makes this weapon difficult. Especially compared to smart slugthrowers and silent laser rifles.

One application I considered was this weapons use against robots of cyborgs. However Tasers (either the wire, capacitor bullet of ionised air variety) already fulfill this role and can also be used on people.

Are there any special effects that electron particle beams would have against electronics? Is there any other reason to use them over the other weapon systems I mentioned?

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  • $\begingroup$ maybe by focusing them enough you could flip a specific bit somewhere in the electronics? That would be really cool $\endgroup$
    – Nephanth
    Jun 9, 2021 at 8:33
  • $\begingroup$ In order to be effective, a taser gun's wires need to be able to latch onto the target's conductive surface to perform a long and powerful enough shock to disable them. That might be the start of an answer :). $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jun 9, 2021 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ check this out reddit.com/r/scifi/comments/43wtl7/… $\endgroup$
    – bobflux
    Jun 9, 2021 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ Electronics in general need to be insinuated from external electric currents in order to avoid damage and/or deliberately 'grounded' in such a way as to prevent damage via random electric discharges. So to use any kind of electrical effect on a (presumably mobile robot) you will need to overcome both issues. Presumably the designers of the robots will have attempted to insulate key components. The grounding issue is another separate problem. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Jun 10, 2021 at 0:35

2 Answers 2

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Hard to implement - easy to overcome

So unfortunately electron beams have some difficulties:

  • In an atmosphere, air particles interact with beams and dissipate the effectiveness very quickly. This is why cathode ray tubes are in vacuums, and also why tasers need a wire to 'channel' the electrons. The range of an electron beam through air therefore is severely limited by the density of air and will have a very short range to target, unless your beam is extraordinarily powerful like ones that come out of modern particle accellerators or travel through air like lightning strikes.
  • However to have a large amount of electrons accelerated to large speeds also has side effects - such as requiring an inordinate amount of power to do so, and ionising air on the way. Think of a lightning strike, and all the energy required to make lightning happen through air. You need to have an enormous battery with you - not easy to make nor portable.
  • There is some questionable aspects to accuracy. Not in the fact that you can't hit a target, but that have large amounts of charged particles in your vicinity, or 'danger close' (near friendlies) is not a good thing. Again, think of a lightning strike - do you really want a lightning strike 20m away from you in a hostage situation?

The other part is these effects could be easy to defend against. All you need is a Faraday cage, and a large amount of offensive capability is neutralised. Your cyborgs perhaps just need to have a suit made of wire, or even just a few wires would do it that ensures the current travels to the ground. Induction could be neutralised easily by insulation depending on the strength of the electron beam, although admittedly if the beam is as strong as a lightning strike hitting a modern computer that is unprepared would likely cause some damage.

Edit: I should add however that as an answer to the last question, with electron beams in atmosphere, if ionising the atmosphere, could be quite theatrical and spectacular. A huge flash and thunderclap could stun or confuse opponents - this could be useful, if not dangerous to everyone around.

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It is unlikely to have a significant effect, if robot's body is electrically conductive. Hitting the robot will just cause the electrons to travel along it's body to be grounded (either into ground or it just may fly off the robot and continue its travel). If sustained long enough, ie. if the charged particles themselves caused the robot's body to heat up sufficiently for the electrical conductance of the body at the point of the impact to drop below the threshold necessary for electron beam to propagate inside, it could do some damage, but at this point, it is more efficient to use other technology, to damage the chassis(laser, kinetic projectiles ...) and only once the internal parts are exposed, use the electron beam (however at this point you can just keep using what you have been using to get inside, bullet will damage CPU as well as electron beam).

HOWEVER, once electron beam can strike a semiconductor, it becomes exceedingly effective, as it can immediately damage the PN junction beyond recovery. And I think, one part of the robot's body would be exceedingly vulnerable to this sort of attack: It's cameras. Cameras are essentially an arrays of circuits, which if struck by high energy electron beam, would likely be destroyed and require replacement. This I find feasible in effect.

However, as others have pointed out, straight electron beam of any practical length is technologically immensely hard to generate. Closest analogues can be find in TVs and electron microscopes, where near perfect vacuum is maintained, in order to allow the beam to move unimpeded. But given high enough energy, it could work at some distances.

Word of the caution though, what you get is essentially a beta radiation gun, you really should not use it around people.

Cheers

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