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Building a Handcrafted Particle Accelerator

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Half designer / half scientist Patrick Stevenson-Keating built a handmade particle accelerator for the Hacked event during Milan Design Week. It uses hand-blown glass

particle accelerator (patrick stevenson-keating)
particle accelerator (patrick stevenson-keating)

You’re not alone in thinking that the things going on at the Large Hadron Collider are a little far-removed from everyday life, but perhaps they don’t have to be. For a commission at the Hacked event during Milan Design Week, half designer / half scientist Patrick Stevenson-Keating managed to build his own working particle accelerator with little more than some blown glass bulbs, a pump, some magnets, and 45,000 volts. Here's how the accelerator works, in Stevenson-Keating's words:

"The piece consists of a series of organically-shaped hand-blown glass bulbs – each attached to a pump via a tube to create a vacuum. When the button is pushed, a voltage of 45,000V is applied across two electrodes. The huge potential difference forces the electrons to gather at the tip of the brass cathode tube inside the rubber bung. When the opposite voltage is applied to the anode disc at the other end of the internal tube, it rips the electrons, accelerating them towards the end of the glass bulb. As the electrons reach the disc, they begin to collide, losing energy and emitting some of this as visible light. Some, however, accelerate through the anode dics, and collide with the phosphorus lining of the glass vessel. This reaction causes photons of light to be released, resulting in visible specks of light."

Head over to Wired to hear what Stevenson-Keating has to say about the project, and check out the video below to see how it was built, and what happens when fast-moving electrons collide.