Today we had our first FSL physics session, led by Vincent (who also led some of our tech sessions) and Even – two VERY smart physicists. Here is more or less what happened.
#1 – Dry Ice!
I walked into session, and the first thing that I noticed was that there were two styrofoam boxes marked “Session Post Draw” on the table. Being the person writing the session post this week, I immediately got worried – were we changing the system? Nope! The boxes came with a pleasant surprise, we were doing something with dry ice.
#2 – The clock hit 4:30, and the session began –
But not until Jenny had to threaten to screech at us like an owl to get us to be quiet.
#3 – We found out what we were going to do!
Cloud Chambers! I was extremely excited, because I’ve been wanting to build one for a long time. Who knew it was this easy!
#4 – We got play dough and acted like small children.
We started building the cloud chambers. Cotton balls were attached to the bottom of a plastic cup with a magnet, then soaked in alcohol (99% to be exact!!). A petri dish was covered with black tissue paper and the cup was sealed to the petri dish with play dough (like true professionals). Then, the chamber was put over a bowl of dry ice.
#5 – Lights off!
Jenny ran downstairs and the lights were off! We waited in anticipation for our cloud chamber to show us the particles around us….
#6 – Nothing happened.
Lights back on – let’s try this again.
#7 – Radioactive stuff was put on our desk..!
We still don’t know what it was. I’ve heard a mix of “less dangerous than a banana”, “a 50 year old plate” and “kind of uranium”. After sending a delegate to the front to figure out just what exactly we should do with this radioactive block, we reconstructed our cloud chamber.
#8 – Lights off again!
We were told that we would need to wait about 10 minutes to really see anything. Every table had flashlights, and it felt like a strange campfire. Our group decided that this would be what would happen at a science camp.
#9 – Important questions were asked around the room.
“Am I getting drunk from alcohol vapours?” That would explain lots…
#10 – People around the room started shouting with joy.
1 group started seeing small particle traces, and everyone crowded around excitedly to watch. Our group still had no luck, and we started to worry we were never going to see anything.
#11 – Our cloud chamber worked!
We saw lots of white tracks zooming across the black paper, in every direction. While we were told to expect a trail every 10 seconds or so, but we were seeing them every second or two.
#12 – We began a presentation about particle physics.
After cleaning up all the material and having a quick break, we sat down for Vincent’s presentation about particle physics.
#13 – I realized grade 10 science had taught me miserably wrong.
Unlike what I had learned, apparently because of quantum mechanics, there are electrons all around atoms, and don’t exactly resemble the organized layers we’re tested on in school. Also, while my textbook insists that neutrons, protons and electrons are the smallest particles, we learned that there are even smaller particles called quarks, leptons and bosons, and the Standard Model. Or as Vincent called them “Einstein Lego”.
#14 – We learned about the Large Hadron Collider.
The massive particle accelerator stretches underground across France and Switzerland. Personally, I’m disappointed they don’t use the slogan “bringing countries together with underground particle physics”. Vincent works on a part of the LHC called ATLAS, where two protons collide, explode, and emit particles that are tracked by detectors.
#15 – We found out there are still LOTS of things particle physicists need answers for.
What is the mass of those undetectable neutrinos? Why isn’t there as much antimatter as matter? Why is gravity so weak in comparison to other forces? Is there only one Higgs? What about dark matter?
If you found yourself leaving this session with lots of questions and confusion, don’t you worry. Particle physicists have LOTS of questions too.