Cosmic Ray Detection At Starbucks?

Want to see cosmic rays? You might need a lot of expensive exotic gear. Nah. [The ActionLab] shows how a cup of coffee or cocoa can show you cosmic rays — or something — with just the right lighting angle. Little bubbles on the surface of the hot liquid tend to vanish in a way that looks as though something external and fast is spreading across the surface.

To test the idea that this is from some external source, he takes a smoke detector with a radioactive sensor and places it near the coffee. That didn’t seem to have any effect. However, a Whimhurst machine in the neighborhood does create a big change in the liquid. If you don’t have a Whimhurst machine, you can rub a balloon on your neighbor’s cat.

We aren’t completely sure this effect is from cosmic rays and we think no one is actually sure. There have been scientific papers written. What do you think? Is it convection? Cosmic rays? Or maybe just electric charges. Put a cup on and start experimenting.

If you want to reliably see cosmic rays, build a cloud chamber. All you really need is a plastic bottle.

23 thoughts on “Cosmic Ray Detection At Starbucks?

      1. If they offer an over roasted excess sugar and artificially flavored creamer laced coffee, yes. Haven’t been there in a while, they aren’t in the left portion of the states

      2. So …. I’m thinking I need to take a Wimhurst machine / Neighbour’s cat + smoke machine with radioactive sensor + lighting rig into Starbucks, find and empty table and set it all up for cosmic ray detection?

        BTW, last time I was in Starbucks I was supposed to be meeting my line manager but got ambushed by senior management who subsequently proceeded to interrogate me over if I was a certain person using a false identity on Facebook writing bad reviews about the company. It was hilarious and I recorded the whole thing on my phone, inspite of the background noise ……. I’m feeling it could be due another visit.

    1. I think Starbucks is the whipping boy for a lot of examples because of its popularity. For a long time it was the example used for how young people were frivolous with their spending and not saving enough for the future. (If you put $5/day in your 401k instead of spending it on Starbuck coffee, you’d have more money for retirement!) They were also put in the center of the “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” feigned outrage. Maybe it’s just an American thing to hate success that you’re not a part of.

      1. Well, there’s only so much available business for coffee shops, so just like any other chain muscling in, they deserve to be scrutinized. If Starbucks can be more profitable than the other shops by adding a bunch of flavors and topping options to cheap coffee it’s going to be hard to find higher quality coffee except by ordering it online and making it yourself. I don’t think their fighting unionization makes them look good either.

        (I know people have demonstrated liking starbucks coffee, and I couldn’t claim to have had a large percentage of their options, but I tried a couple of times to ask for the least bitter options available for black coffee, and it was always significantly more bitter and less flavorful than even the stuff that comes out of one of those old coffee urns that burn multiple gallons of coffee at once over a period of hours. For a few bucks, I expect it to at least be as good as instant, and I’m just not seeing the appeal unless it tastes like that because you’re supposed to drink it with enough flavors/toppings to make it better.)

    1. Generally, Al’s articles are easily in the top 90% regarding content and entertainment IMO and he probs needed to write this one not to make the other writers look so bad.

  1. The cup of coffee (or tea) is a Brownian motion generator. You suspend an atomic vector plotter in it.
    Then hook in the logic circuits of a Bambleweeny 57 Sub- Meson Brain (an extremely advanced Raspberry Pi).

    Douglas Adams described this, decades ago.

    1. Ahh…but what is it really the neighbor’s cat or was it simply just some random stray? The experiment requires the neighbor’s cat, you know. As well as a sealed box, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source connected to a Geiger counter.

  2. I ended up with a handful of usable particle sources when the smoke alarms that came with my house gave up the ghost in rapid succession(*). Before pitching them, I disassembled them to see what processor they were using and save the particle source holders(**) for later experimentation. I suppose I could point the business end of one at the surface of my next hot beverage, if I remember to omit the whipped cream.

    (*) How’d we know? Apparently the firmware in the Allegro A5367CA processor decides 21 years is a good run for a detector in even a non-smoking home, and starts to emit a triple beep sequence that our mature ears could barely hear. I resorted to an iOS frequency analyzer app to show that we were in fact hearing things, where it was coming from, and what it was trying to tell us.

    (**) AEA Technology X.0849 particle source holder, containing a 1 micrometer layer of Americium-241/gold alloy sealed between layers of palladium and silver. It boggles my mind how many of these David Hahn needed to collect to reach – uh – “critical mass.”

    1. Please, do yourself a favor and dispose of those. The naivety evident in your text shows you don’t really understand what you are dealing with.

      That “processor” has no firmware, no microprocessor, and no 21 year timeout. It’s just a purpose-designed low-power chip.

      21 years is a pretty long run for an ionization-type detector. They are long past their recommended best-before date. You should have replaced them a decade ago.

      The quantity of Am-241 is NOT “1 micrometer”. It’s 1 uCi (microcurie), a measure of its radioactivity, not its thickness.

      1. You might do your own self a favor and look up the datasheet for the mentioned AEA Technology X.0849 particle source holder. It actually does contain a 1µm layer of Americium.

        The datasheet mentions several models of such Americium alpha particle sources. They are provided in 0.5 microcurie and 0.8 microcurie sizes.

        The datasheet for the Allegro A5367CA does indeed describe something that is not a microprocessor. The datasheet doesn’t describe anything that would equate to an “end of life” warning. Given the description of the failure, I’d be inclined to say that the battery was old and weak and that the logic could no longer detect the alpha particles, resulting in an alarm signal that was nearly impossible to hear because the battery was so weak.

        1. Mea culpa. And he did write “layer”, reinforcing that.
          But you have to agree the salient point of a radioactive source is its radioactivity. If one chooses to quote thickness over activity, then priorities are skewed.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.