Subatomic physics is pretty neat stuff, but not generally considered within the reach of the home-gamer. With cavernous labs filled with racks of expensive gears and miles-wide accelerators, playing with the subatomic menagerie has been firmly in the hands of the pros for pretty much as long as the field has been in existence. But that could change with this sub-$100 DIY muon detector.
[Spencer Axani] has been fiddling with the idea of a tiny muon detector since his undergrad days. Now as an MIT doctoral candidate, he’s making that dream a reality. Muons are particles that are similar to electrons but more massive and less likely to be affected by electromagnetic fields. Muons rain down on the Earth’s surface at the rate of 10,000 per square meter every minute after being created by cosmic rays interacting with the atmosphere and are capable of penetrating deep into the planet. [Spencer]’s detector is purposely kept as low-budget as possible, using cheap plastic scintillators and solid-state photomultipliers hooked up to an Arduino. The whole project is as much STEM outreach as it is a serious scientific effort; the online paper (PDF link) stresses the mechanical and electronics skills needed to complete the build. At the $100 price point, this build is well within the means of most high school STEM programs and allows for a large, distributed array of muon detectors that has the potential for some exciting science.
We’ve covered quite a few subatomic detection projects before, from the aforementioned large-scale builds to more modest efforts. But we like this project because it has the potential to inspire a lot of citizen scientists.
Thanks for the tip, [deralchemist]
Although scientists have known about Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays (UHECRs) for years, nobody can pinpoint their origin. When these UHECRs hit the ground, however, they cause a widespread local disturbance called an air shower. This air shower is a wide dispersion of photons, muons, and electrons at sea level. The means of observing this air shower mandates a widespread geographic region for detecting them. One solution would be a very big detector. Physicists [Daniel] and [Michael] discovered an alternative to pricey hardware, though. By leveraging the CMOS sensors in our smartphones, they can borrow some CPU cycles on our phones to create a worldwide detector network.
According to their paper, the CMOS camera in our smartphones is sensitive to the spectrum of radiation induced by muons and photons from these air showers. With an app running on our phones, [Daniel], [Michael], and other scientists can aggregate the data from multiple detections in a similar region to better understand their origins.
If you’re concerned about CRAYFIS taking away from your talk or web-browsing time, fear not; it runs in the background when a power source has been detected, hopefully, when you are asleep. It’s not the first time we see scientists tap into our computing resources, but this is certainly an achievement made possible in only the last few years by the sensor-loaded smartphone that charges on many of our night stands. With over 1.5 billion smartphones active in the world, we’re thrilled to see a team cleverly leveraging a ubiquitous and already-well-distributed resource.
[Daniel Whiteson and Michael Mulhearn], researchers at the University of California, have come up with a novel method of detecting ultra-high energy cosmic rays (UHECR) using smartphones. UHECR are defined as having energy greater than 1018eV. They are rare and very difficult to detect with current arrays. In order to examine enough air showers to detect UHECR, more surface area is needed. Current arrays, like the Pierre Auger Observatory and AGASA, cannot get much larger without dramatically increasing cost. A similar THP Quarterfinalist project is the construction of a low-cost cosmic ray observatory, where it was mentioned that more detection area is needed in order to obtain enough data to be useful.
[Daniel Whiteson and Michael Mulhearn] and colleagues noted that smartphone cameras with CMOS sensors can detect ionizing radiation, which means they also will pick up muons and high-energy photons from cosmic rays. The ubiquitous presence of smartphones makes their collective detection of air showers and UHECR an intriguing possibility. To make all this happen, [Whiteson and Mulhearn] created a smartphone app called CRAYFIS, short for Cosmic RAYs Found In Smartphones. The app turns an idle smartphone into a cosmic ray detector. When the screen goes to sleep and the camera is face-down, CRAYFIS starts taking data from the camera. If a cosmic ray hits the CMOS sensor, the image data is stored on the smartphone along with the arrival time and the phone’s geolocation. This information is uploaded to a central server via the phone’s WiFi. The user does not have to interact with the app beyond installing it. It’s worth noting that CRAYFIS will only capture when the phone is plugged in, so no worries about dead batteries.
The goal of CRAYFIS is to have a minimum of one million smartphones running the app, with a density of 1000 smartphones per square kilometer. As an incentive, anyone whose smartphone data is used in a future scientific paper will be listed as an author. There are CRAYFIS app versions for Android and iOS platforms according to the site. CRAYFIS is still in beta, so the apps aren’t publicly available. Head over to the site to join up!
There are a number of crowdsourced projects to put data from around the world onto the Internet, tracking everything from lightning to aircraft transponders. [aelias36]’s entry for The Hackaday Prize is a little different. He’s tracking cosmic rays, and hopes to turn his low-cost hardware into the largest observatory in the world.
Cosmic rays are protons and other atomic nuclei originating far outside the solar system. They hit the very top of Earth’s atmosphere at a significant fraction of the speed of light, and the surface of the Earth is frequently sprayed with particles resulting from cosmic rays. Detecting this particle spray is the basis for all Earth-based cosmic ray observatories, and [aelias] has figured out a cheap way to put detectors in every corner of the globe.
The solution is a simple PIN diode. An op-amp amplifies the tiny signal created in the diode into something a microcontroller can use. Adding a GPS module and an Ethernet connection, this simple detector can send time, position, and particle counts to a server, creating a huge observatory with crowdsourced data.
The detectors [aelias] is working on isn’t great as far as cosmic ray detectors go; the focus here is getting a lot of them out into the field and turning a huge quantity of data into quality data. It’s an interesting project, and the only one with this scale of crowdsourcing we’ve seen for The Hackaday Prize.
You can check out [aelias]’ entry video below.
The project featured in this post is a semifinalist in The Hackaday Prize.
Continue reading “THP Quarterfinalist: Low-Cost Solid State Cosmic Ray Observatory”
In the late 1940s, the US Naval Research Laboratory used a few German-built V2 rockets to study cosmic rays from above Earth’s atmosphere. To do this, a nitrogen-powered cloud chamber was fitted inside the nose cone of these former missiles, sent aloft, and photographed every 25 seconds during flight. When [Markus] read about these experiments, he thought it would be an excellent way to study cosmic rays from a high altitude balloon and set about building his own Wilson cloud chamber.
Cloud chambers work by supersaturating the atmosphere with water or alcohol vapor. This creates a smoky cloud inside the chamber, allowing for the visualization of radiation inside the cloud. Usually the clouds in these chambers are made in a very cold environment using dry ice, but rapidly decreasing the air pressure in the chamber will work just as well, as [Markus] discovered.
[Markus]’s small cloud chamber uses a CO2 cartridge to provide the pressure in the cloud chamber before dumping the CO2 out of the chamber with the help of a solenoid valve.
In the video after the break, [Markus] demonstrates his cloud chamber by illuminating the cloud with a laser pointer and introducing a few alpha particles with a sample of Americium 241. It looks very cool, and seems to be useful enough to count cosmic rays aboard a balloon or amateur rocket.
Continue reading “Researching cosmic rays with cloud chambers”
What do you do if you have 18 Geiger tubes lying around? [Robert] had an interesting idea to build a cosmic ray detector and hodoscope to observe the path cosmic rays take while flying through his lab.
[Robert]’s cosmic ray detector works by detecting the output 9 Geiger tubes on the y-axis and 9 Geiger tubes on the x-axis with a coincidence circuit. When a cosmic ray flies through the detector, it should trigger two tubes simultaneously. By graphing which of the two tubes were triggered on an array of 81 LEDs, [Robert] not only knows when a cosmic ray is detected, but where the cosmic ray was.
The detectors do pick up a little background radiation, but thanks to [Robert]’s coincidence circuit, he can be fairly certain that what he’s recording are actually high-energy cosmic rays.
Before building the 9×9 hodoscope, [Robert] built a similar drift hodoscope that simply plots the path a cosmic ray takes through an array of Geiger tubes. You can check out videos of both these cosmic ray detectors after the break.
Continue reading “Detecting cosmic rays with 18 Geiger tubes”