Beat Boredom By Building 100 DIY Muon Detector

first_imgStay on target Watch: Dolphin Leaps Feet Away From Unsuspecting SurferNASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This Weekend Go full citizen scientist with MIT’s pocket-sized cosmic ray muon detector.The DIY device—aimed at high school and college students—costs about $100 to build.Earth’s atmosphere is routinely showered with high-energy cosmic rays, which decay into muons.Not to be confused with the Swedish cartoon characters, muons are unstable subatomic particles (slightly heavier than an electron) that last only fractions of a second.Like a light (yet indistinguishable) drizzle, some 10,000 muons rain down onto Earth’s surface every minute; some even travel several kilometers through rock and ice.And now, thanks to a team of physicists working in MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science, anyone with some pocket change and free time can track the ghostly particles.The DIY device lights up and counts each time a muon passes through (via MIT)The CosmicWatch outreach program details how to assemble, calibrate, and run the detector; made with common electrical parts, it can measure muon rates in virtually any environment, from the sky to the soil.“You get funny looks when you take particle detectors into the subway, but we did that in Boston,” lead researcher and MIT graduate student Spencer Axani said in a statement.Through a series of prototypes (the current model is version four), his project morphed from intended add-on for existing lab-scale sensors to outreach effort encouraging hands-on particle physics.To test his product, Axani equipped University of Warsaw and Missouri University of Science and Technology students with pre-assembled CosmicWatch kits: a piece of plastic scintillator, SensL silicon photomultiplier, Arduino Nano, readout screen, circuit board, and 3D-printed casting.Their creations—each the size of a large cellphone—were subsequently sent up in weather balloons and planes to measure muons at high altitudes. A group at Boston University, meanwhile, are exploring the possibility of placing muon detectors in suborbital rockets, which reach an elevation of about 100,000 feet.Version two (of four) was too slow, too big, and too expensive (via CosmicWatch)Eventually, Axani and his team hope to apply their pocket device as a means of muon tomography—a technique (like X-rays or CT scans) for displaying in three dimensions the volume of material surrounding a detector.“That’s something I’d like to try out at some point, maybe to map out the office on the floor above me,” Axani said. “For now, I like to take these detectors in my briefcase and measure the muon rate when I’m travelling.”Nerd alert.Want to build your own CosmicWatch detector? Visit the website for step-by-step instructions; supplementary materials (including code for Arduino) can be found on GitHub.“This is a really neat example of how pretty esoteric physics can produce something which is directly useful,” according to MIT physics professor Janet Conrad.The first version of the detector is described by a paper published in the American Journal of Physics.last_img

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