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Physicist turns smartphones into pocket cosmic ray detectors


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University of Wisconsin-Madison威斯康星大学麦迪逊分校


A new smartphone app can essentially turn An droid phones into pocket cosmic ray detectors. The app, DECO, uses thephone's camera to capture energetic subatomic light particles and log data.


Soon, the growing capability of your smartphone could be harnessed to detect cosmic rays in much the same way ashigh-end, multimillion-dollar observatories.


With a simple app addition, Android phones,and likely other smartphone brands in the not-too-distant future, can be turned into detectors to capture the light particles created when cosmic rays crashinto Earth's atmosphere.


"The apps basically transform thephone into a high-energy particle detector," explains Justin Vandenbroucke,a University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor of physics and are searcher at the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center(WIPAC). "It uses the same principles as these very large experiments."

威斯康星大学麦迪逊分校的物理系助理教授、兼威斯康星州冰立方粒子天体物理中心(WIPAC)研究员贾斯汀-凡登布鲁克(Justin Vandenbroucke)解释说:“此应用程序主要是将手机转换为高能粒子探测器。其也应用了与这些大型实验相同的原理。”

Cosmic rays are energetic subatomic particles created, scientists think, in cosmic accelerators like black holes and exploding stars. When the particles crash into theEarth's atmosphere, they create showers of secondary particles calledmuons.


Smartphone cameras use silicon chipsthat work through what is called the photoelectric effect,in which particles of light, or photons, hit a silicon surface and release anelectric charge. The same is true for muons. When a muon strikes the semiconductor that underpins a smartphone camera, it liberates an electric charge and creates a signature in pixels that can be logged, stored and analyzed.


Cosmic rays emanate from beyond our solar system and are constantly bombarding our planet. Their origins continue to confound astrophysicists as the high-energy particles that compose cosmicrays travel vast distances and their trajectories are bent as they traverse the magnetic fields that abound in interstellar space. Cosmic rays are commonplace and frequently confound astronomical observations looking for other phenomena.


The idea behind the pocket cosmic raydetector is primarily educational, notes Vandenbroucke, who embarked on theproject as a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, at thesuggestion of classmate Kenny Jensen, who wrote an early version of the appthat powers the smartphone cosmic ray detector.


The project, known as DECO for Distributed Electronic Cosmic-ray Observatory, is supported by grants from the American Physical Society as well as the Knight Foundation and the Simon-Strauss Foundation. It was abetted this past semester and summer through the programming skills of recent Janesville Craig High School graduate and WIPACintern Matthew Plewa.


"I'd been working in the Androide cosystem for a while and it was just one of those hobbies that happened towork out," says Plewa, who plans to study engineering at IowaState University.


To help transform DECO into a potent educational presence, Vandenbroucke's WIPAC group -- with grant support from, anational program in particle physics and teacher professional development --plans to engage high school teachers to develop curricular materials around theuse of the smartphone cosmic ray detector.


To turn your phone into a cosmic raydetector, Vandenbroucke explains, you need to download the app and cover thephone's camera lens with duct tape. The phone can then be placed screen up justabout anywhere, even in a desk drawer as muons can penetrate matter much likeX-rays. (Muon detectors are used, for example, to sketch out hidden geological featuresand even buried structures of archaeological interest.)


Left running,an idle phone can be set to record images, which are then analyzed to search for particle events. DECO works by taking an image every couple of seconds. The DECO app analyzes the image¬and if enough pixels light up, it gets recorded as an event. Particle tracks from both cosmic rays and radioactivity in the environment can be recorded.


Events may sometimes be matched tocosmic phenomena detected by other, more sophisticated observatories andexperiments. The DECO app platform also includes a data logger app that routes event information -- time, location and observations -- to a central database.


Vandenbroucke validated the smartphone cosmic ray detector by setting it up and logging data on long-distancecommercial airline flights. Muons are more easily detectable at high altitudes,so the Wisconsin physicist would plug in the detector and switch it on once the flight reached cruising altitude.

万登布鲁克证实,智能手机宇宙射线探测器安装在长途商业航班飞机上并记录数据,介子在海拔高的地方更容易被检测到,所以威斯康星州的物理学家在 飞机一到达巡航高度时,就接上检测器,并开始检测

Pocket cosmic ray detectors are unlikely to overtake the large, sophisticated detectors astrophysicists use,but if enough people put idle or old cellphones to use to capture muons, the project initiated by Vandenbroucke could one day evolve into a meaningful"citizen science" project.


"It would be great to get students and the public interested in gathering data and understanding the particles around them, things they ordinarily don't get a chance to see,"says Vandenbroucke.