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Gadget Freak Case #219: Watching the Alpha Sparks Fly
7/6/2012

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This detector is only sensitive to alpha particles and will not detect beta, x-ray, or gamma radiation.
This detector is only sensitive to alpha particles and will not detect beta, x-ray, or gamma radiation.

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Beth Stackpole
User Rank
Blogger
Sparks or sparklers?
Beth Stackpole   7/6/2012 7:51:55 AM
Looks like a fun project and perfect timing for the Fourth of July!

naperlou
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
naperlou   7/6/2012 10:47:48 AM
Just right, Beth.  Build a big enough one and you wouldn't need fireworks.  I am not sure that would be safer, though.

Long ago I worked on spark and wire chambers.  I even helped with a needle chamber.  In those cases we wanted to see the track of any charged particle, so we had a chamber of a noble gas.  This ionized and the spark followed the ionized trail.  This simple detector is a great little project.  Now all we need is a cirsuit to count the particles.  Next project?

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
Rob Spiegel   7/6/2012 12:46:46 PM
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Good suggestion on a gadget, Naperlou. Anybody up for it?

j.iovine
User Rank
Iron
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
j.iovine   7/6/2012 10:09:46 PM
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I'm sure a counter could be implemented into the design. Do you think it would have value?

armorris
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
armorris   7/7/2012 11:35:53 AM
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A counter circuit would be very easy to implement. A Geiger counter works in an identical way, except that there is some gas inside a Geiger tube. There is both analog and digital means to do the job. Of course, without a known standard, you couldn't calibrate it. Although this is a cool gadget to play around with and for educational purposes, does it have any practical use? I understand that skin, and even paper stops alpha particles. That's why an alpha source (Americium, I think) is used in smoke detectors.

j.iovine
User Rank
Iron
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
j.iovine   7/7/2012 12:18:08 PM
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I feel it has great educational potential. It allows one to visually see the detection of alpha particles. 

While this device will only detect alpha particles, spark chambers are used to see the passage of cosmic rays.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpW08xV3RI8

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spark_chamber

 

 

shjacks45
User Rank
Bronze
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
shjacks45   7/9/2012 3:48:10 AM
Why publish something so useless? Your alpha source would need to be actually sitting on the metal plate to show activity. Alpha particles, even high energy particles, are stopped by our surface layer of dead skin. If you've ever used a cloud chamber you would know that alpha particles are stopped by a few inches (the size of the project) of air.

bdcst
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
bdcst   7/9/2012 9:52:19 AM
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Ouch Sparky!  Well if you must have a visual show I suggest abandoning the dangerous HV and going for a Cloud Chamber.  They are easy to build and the thickness of the vapor trail makes it easy to distinguish between alpha, beta or gamma (cosmic) radiation.  As a child I saw my first cloud chamber at a Russian technology exhibit at the New York Coliseum back in the late 1950's.  Both the Soviet Union and that NY exhibition hall are long gone.

MrBill45140
User Rank
Iron
Great Demo
MrBill45140   7/9/2012 10:56:50 AM
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I teach science to junior high homeschoolers.

They love sparks and noise and yes a little danger.  This project is a great way to introduce the alpha partical.  Inserting paper between the alpha source and the detector would be a good demonstration of the size of the alpha.

While a cloud chamber is certainly a good demonstration tool, its use is more difficult because dry ice is required.  In addition, cloud chamber has a limited field of view and difficult to see at a distance.  Using the "spark detector", in a darkened room, the entire class could see the effect.

CLMcDade
User Rank
Gold
Re: Sparks or sparklers?
CLMcDade   7/9/2012 10:57:04 AM
"Useless" is a relative word and is very inappropriate for this forum.  Establishing the uselessness of a demonstration, experiment or idea is impossible - if the demonstration inspires just one person to build off of it somehow, it is not useless.

In a related story, apparently some in Pakistan don't think finding the "God particle" is all that amazing or important.  It is a very useless endeavor in their minds.  Heck,some members of our own Congress think that scientific data is useless and that science has no role in public policy. 

So bravo to John Iovine for taking the time to investigate and build a device that addressed his curiosity.

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