Demonstration P4-04, the Cosmic Ray Detector, has recently been upgraded. PhD student Liz Friedman shows it in action in this video.


When energetic particles from space hit the upper atmosphere, they create a cascade of particles in the air around us. Even a single cosmic ray might create a whole shower of particles in our atmosphere. They’re invisible, but with the right apparatus we can detect them. Each of the two dark blocks in this device is a scintillator. When a particle passes through one scintillator, it makes a tiny spark of light, which is picked up by a sensitive photodetector. By checking for correlations between the two paddles, we can spot which sparks are being caused by particles passing straight through from space.

These particles stream around and through us all the time, harmlessly; but it’s pretty amazing that we can build a tabletop device that can measure them!

You can read more about Liz’s adventures in physics, hunting neutrinos in Antarctica, in last summer’s Odyssey magazine