Physics Questions People Ask Fermilab
Home made particle detector
Would it be possible for me to build a small particle detector at home? I would like to observe some of the cosmic ray particles that hit earth.
Yes, absolutely. All you need is a container with vapor, and charged particles zipping through will leave a trail similar to the trails left by air planes in the sky. This type of detector is called a cloud chamber.
Instead of writing down all the details, I refer you to a Scientific
American website. In January 2001, the magazine published an article on how
to build a cloud chamber. You can read this article at:
Please let me know if you need more help.
The cloud chamber method led to two Nobel Prizes: Called the expansion method, this discovery earned C.T.R. Wilson a share of the 1927 Nobel Prize (http://www.nobel.se/physics/laureates/1927/index.html). Improving on that method, P.M.S. Blackett received the 1948 Nobel Prize (http://www.nobel.se/physics/laureates/1948/press.html) for the development of the Wilson cloud chamber.
To learn more about cosmic ray particles, the particles that you will
observe with your home-built cloud chamber, check out the public webpages of
the Pierre Auger Project:
The scientists of the Pierre Auger Project, including Fermilab physicists, are building a detector to capture cosmic rays. They are particularly interested in some of the most energetic particles ever observed in the universe. Since those events are pretty rare, they build a very large array of detectors.
Since there are many more low-energy cosmic particles, there is plenty for you to see with a small cloud chamber.
Best wishes and good luck with the construction of your own detector,
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