The wow factor
Tuesday 23 October 2018
I remember watching a BBC documentary on particle physics with my mum, when I was about 15. My mum always used to watch science documentaries with me, she probably has extensive knowledge of particle accelerators and superconductivity logged away in her brain somewhere. They say you remember well just before you sleep. The main focus of the programme was the search for the isolated quark, this was before they realised you couldn't get one due to confinement. A team at Leeds university had built the worlds largest cloud chamber to detect cosmic rays in the hope that they would find one with 1/3e charge. WOW!
Some years later I studied Physics at Leeds university but never saw the cloud chamber in operation. I did hear it a couple of times, it made a loud bang as the gasses expanded to give the conditions necessary for a saturated vapour.
I always wanted a cloud chamber but the difficulty of obtaining dry ice to cool the vapour put me off. I hadn't heard of the Lascelles thermoelectric cloud chamber, it uses the Peltier effect to cool the vapour. Erik Duhs Nilsen at Gammadata informed me about it, so I got one. Actually seeing the paths of radioactive particles is quite special and the occasional cosmic ray definitely wow. A special treat in store for my second year students to encourage them to hurry up and finish electricity and magnetism.