Cloud Chamber Project – Recent Meeting

During the recent “cold night” evening  we looked at the uses of coldness, as a photographic technique, as a wine cooler and to make a cloud chamber. While we achieved the low temperatures needed to make a cloud chamber we were not successful in terms of seeing cosmic rays. We are not giving up so watch this blog  for the next iteration.

Internet suggests building a cloud chamber is easy!

We found it difficult…


Cosmic rays

You may be wondering why we are interested in cosmic rays and feel that this subject may have little relevance to you as an individual. Did you know that Cosmic radiation from exploding stars outside our solar system can cause electronics to malfunction?

  • Car safety

    • A cosmic ray is thought to have  to have caused braking issues in Toyota vehicles that led to a 2009 recall of over 9 million cars
  • Democracy

    • The legality of eVoting was raised before the European Court of Human Rights  In 2003 a new eVoting system was introduced to try to convince citizens that the system was safe. In the two locations that originally started eVoting, a “Ticketing” system was introduced. The principle of this is to add a printer next to the voting machine (magnetic card and light pen), and a paper copy of the vote is printed and approved by the voter. Once the elections are finished, all the paper votes (tickets) are counted and compared to the electronic result. In case of discrepancy, the paper version rules. The paper count and the electronic count matched nowhere, and it was decided (against the law) to favour the electronic result, which was considered more reliable. The law to organise this new test stated explicitly that this was for one election only.

When the day of the vote came, everything seemed to have gone well. That was, until a cosmic chain of events caused a single Bit Flip and called the outcome into question  in Schaerbeek, Belgium, A  candidate in the election erroneously gained an extra 4,096 votes.This was only spotted because it meant the politician concerned had more votes than it was possible to get and so investigation ensued. <>

One likely explanation for the error was a single-event upset caused by a cosmic ray, which the voting system did not protect against.[2][3][4] Furthermore, a sourcecode analysis of the DigiVote system in 2004 found several obvious errors with the security of the encryption keys, leaking of sensitive information, and lack of defensive secure coding practices.[5][6] The voting system was also found to be vulnerable to a limited replay attack.[7]

In 2004, for the European Elections, all the tests were ended and all 44% of the population already voting electronically did so with the magnetic card. Ticketing or Optical Reading were no longer used. Since 1999 no further locations migrated from paper to eVoting. The equipment acquired in 1994 was not supposed to be used in 2004; however, the government chose to use it for one more year.

  • Air safety

A Qantus passenger jet flying from Singapore to Perth, Australia, plunged through the sky for a terrifying 23 seconds – injuring about a third of the passengers on board – after an cosmic ray caused the plane to drop suddenly out of autopilot. Flying at 35,000 feet, where radiation levels are much higher than at sea level, also increases the error rate dramatically.Preventing the particles from hitting electronic devices is practically impossible, as it would require a shield of concrete more than three metres (10ft) thick.

So, instead, one solution is to design processors in triplicate and get them to ‘vote’ on any decision – the strategy adopted by Nasa to protect computers in space. The probability that cosmic rays will occur in two of the circuits at the same time is vanishingly small. So if two circuits produce the same result it should be correct.

  • Mobile phones and the internet

    • Perhaps a more typical problem potentially caused by an cosmic ray is a computer or smartphone freezing, forcing it to be rebooted. The more powerful the computer, the more common the problem.A mobile phone with 500 kilobytes of memory might only have one error every 28 years, but a router farm, such as those used by Internet providers, with 25 gigabytes of memory could have one every 17 hours.

What can you see with a cloud chamber

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