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How to build your own particle detector?

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Posted January 29, 2015

The scale of the detectors at the Large Hadron Collider is almost incomprehensible. They weigh thousands of tons, contain millions of detecting elements and support a research program for an international community of thousands of scientists.

Make a cloud chamber and watch fundamental particles zip through your living room. Image: Sandbox Studio

Make a cloud chamber and watch fundamental particles zip through your living room. Image: Sandbox Studio

But particle detectors aren’t always so complicated. In fact, some particle detectors are so simple that you can make (and operate) them in your own home.

The Continuously Sensitive Diffusion Cloud Chamber is one such detector. Originally developed at UC Berkeley in 1938, this type of detector uses evaporated alcohol to make a ‘cloud’ that is extremely sensitive to passing particles.

Cosmic rays are particles that are constantly crashing into the Earth from space. When they hit Earth’s atmosphere, they release a shower of less massive particles, many of which invisibly rain down to us.

When a cosmic ray zips through a cloud, it creates ghostly particle tracks that are visible to the naked eye.

Building a cloud chamber is easy and requires only a few simple materials and steps:

Read more about building a cloud chamber

Source: FNAL, written by Sarah Charley

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