“A what detector?!”:
At any given moment, the Earth’s atmosphere is showered with high-energy cosmic rays that have been blasted from supernovae and other astrophysical phenomena far beyond the Solar System. When cosmic rays collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, they decay into muons — charged particles that are slightly heavier than an electron.
Muons last only fractions of a second, and during their fleeting lifespan they can be found through every layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, circulating in the air around us and raining onto the surface at a rate similar to a light drizzle. A small fraction of muons can even penetrate the Earth’s surface and travel several kilometers through rock and ice.
This is aimed at “K12” which doesn’t translate directly to the UK system, but is somewhere around the end of high school, start of college.
Now physicists working in MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science have designed a pocket-sized cosmic ray muon detector to track these ghostly particles. The detector can be made with common electrical parts, and when turned on, it lights up and counts each time a muon passes through. The relatively simple device costs just $100 to build, making it the most affordable muon detector available today.
I emailed this over to our Science department and CC’d the Computer Science teachers in since, even if subatomic particles aren’t taught at GCSE, this is a crazy cool project and could really get kids interested in the sciences if pitched right. Oh, and it could be used as the basis for a ‘true random number generator’ since - as I understand things - muons are unpredictable, at least at our current level of understanding, meaning we can teach children in Computer Science about random in programming and the differences between pseudo random (of which we use the random function in python) and true random.
Only response I got? From a senior science teacher: “How do you know what a Muon even is? Half of us haven’t even heard of one”.
To be fair though, the guy did say that it sounds like a really interesting project.