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Gadget Freak Case #219: Watching the Alpha Sparks Fly

John Iovine created a homemade alpha particle spark detector with a high-voltage power supply and radioactive materials.

After watching a YouTube video displaying a homemade alpha particle spark detector, John Iovine decided to build his own version. He researched the works from experts on the topic and came up with what he considers a simple version.

Iovine takes a thin tungsten wire and brings the wires to ground, and charges the underlying metal plate with a hearty 8,000 volts. He positions the grounded wires above a smooth metal plate that is charged to 8,000 volts. The air acts as an insulator between the highly-charged plate and ground wires. When an alpha particle passes between, the sparks will fly.

John Iovine's homemade alpha particle spark detector uses a thin tungsten ground wire and a plate charged to about 8,000 volts.

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

Do you have a Gadget Freak project you would like the world to see? Send a brief description of your gadget and a photo to Senior Editor Rob Spiegel.

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