Archive for August 4th, 2009

Cosmic Rays

Shorts between these plates are caused by cosmic rays passing through.

Shorts between these plates are caused by cosmic rays passing through.

Visualization of abstract or complex scientific concepts has always intrigued me. More so is a live demonstration of those concepts.

In physics the basics are easily seen, mechanics is around is every day. Thermodynamic can be trickier but some neat tricks with rubber bands, half empty cans and sudden changes in temperature easily demonstrate many of the principles. Electromagnetism and optics takes a little bit more effort but can have stunning results.

In optics I was taught at first solid theory with no demonstrations of any of it. Then the next teacher I had realized this gap in the classes understanding so he set up a simple single/double slit experiment, it all suddenly made sense.

Eventually topics like generally relativity and solid state physics get harder to demonstrate in a simple manner. I do not mean in a basic lab experiment rather in front of an audience or to an elementary school student.

This is all why I love going to science museums, observatories and other sciencey places, to see the neat demonstrations. Recently I went to the Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles and they had a small section for cosmic rays. Two demonstrations were there: a cloud chamber and a spark gap detector (I don’t know the real name off the top of my head). Cloud chambers are either really impressive or not exciting at all, I guess some places may add their own radioactive source to spice things up.

The spark gap detector was really cool. It had a slightly antique look to it with blue sparks and corresponding clicking noises. Best of all the sparks showed up really well on camera even with 1 second hand held exposures.

Now if only the tesla coil was turned on.

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