Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Atom Smasher in the Garage

Technology is really about knowledge. I found it instructive and also amusing to discover that the theoretical physicist, Michio Kaku, built himself an atom smasher in the garage of his home—while still in high school! The more formal name for such things is “particle accelerator.” Here is the story as told in Kaku’s book, Hyperspace, p. 6-7:

First, I purchased a small quantity of sodium-22, which is radioactive and naturally emits positrons (the antimatter counterpart of electrons). Then I built what is called a cloud chamber, which makes visible the tracks left by subatomic particles. I was able to take hundreds of beautiful photographs of the tracks left behind by antimatter. Next I scavenged around large electronic warehouses in the area, assembled the necessary hardware, including hundreds of pounds of scrap transformer steel, and built a 2.3-million-electron-volt betatron [accelerator] in my garage that would be powerful enough to produce a beam of antielectrons. To construct the monstrous magnets necessary for the betatron, I convinced my parents to help me wind 22 miles of copper wire on the high-school football field. We spent Christmas vacation on the 50-yard line, winding and assembling the massive coils that would bend the paths of the high-energy electrons.

And Kaku succeeded.  He produced “a magnetic field 20,000 times more powerful than the earth’s magnetic field, which is necessary to accelerate a beam of electrons.” To be sure, most of the time he turned it on, he blew every fuse in the house.

Where there is knowledge, and a will, the most peculiar feats are possible. Fermilab certainly had the knowledge to keep on operating Tevatron, the world’s second largest hadron collider. But Fermilab’s “parents,” read Congress, didn’t want to spend Christmas coiling miles of cable…

1 comment:

  1. In the book it says "cooper wire" lol. A spelling mistake from a theoretical physicist? :/