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7436This Year's Crazy Project & Call for Help

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  • Douglas Ruuska
    Feb 1 5:12 PM
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      You all know me and that my personal cranial vortex is home and spawn to the occasional crackpot flight of fancy, such as human-sized lit-up Galaxies, or Slides of Doom, or visions of Flying Bicycles for all, or.... Well this year I have a new and even greater vision that I would like to fulfill, but I cannot do it alone. Please consider this my petition, my entreaty, my humble proposal to you for assistance in making yet another crazy dream come true. To wit, I am modestly asking anyone who might be interested for assistance this year in bringing to the Playa a 50-foot tall, climbable tower near the peak of which is a functioning spark chamber. See here for more info:


      This kick-ass device will enable you to see and witness actual cosmic rays as they pass through the space beside you on their way from the incomprehensibly far reaches of one of the sides of the Universe to one of the others. Perhaps a traveler coming across it, or you for that matter, will have an experience similar to the following:
      Imagine, if you will, crossing the Silk Road through the deserts of Central Asia on your way to the far and fabled East. Passing through lands decidedly foreign to the home left far behind, the buildings and people, food and customs, the very landscape itself are all novel and peculiar. Your gaze, casting about, encompasses new and unusual sights in every direction. At the present moment, far along your path through the flat and featureless wasteland, an apparition emerges, a wavering, shimmery tower emitting mysterious flashes of light from its pinnacle. The interminable plodding of your camel brings you endlessly closer, gradually transforming the hypnotic mirage into the slender spire of a minaret, something read about in the journals of others, but never before witnessed with your own eyes. Closer still, the sides of the tower are revealed, covered in strange, indecipherable designs, in which you sense but cannot arrive at any meaning. At the base, an entrance. Your curiosity piqued, you enter and climb for a chance to view up close that invitingly strange, flickering light viewed from afar. On an open platform high above the ground, entranced by the awe and grandeur of the external view, it takes some time before the occasional crackling sound behind you enters your awareness. Turning to investigate its source, you come face to face with a crystal vessel, all that is separating you from a simple structure containing what appears to be a miniature lightning storm. This has your attention now, but what just what the hell could it be? Within this strange vessel hangs an arrangement of numerous metal plates connected by audible trails of sparks every few seconds. Very curious indeed. Puzzled, you glance around for any kind of explanation and, looking up you see, in every language known to the makers, descriptions of what is before you. You slowly realize that this device is making perceptible to you an all pervasive, invisible force that permeates the very fabric of the Universe. You stand witness to visible echos of distant cataclysms; the birthing spasms of supernovae, the titanic outpourings of Active Galactic Nuclei releasing vast torrents of energy into the void, and the final gasps of dying stars. Exposed to a layer of existence that before this moment you were not aware even existed, you find yourself in the humbled in the presence of a device that introduces you to the empirical reality of Cosmic Rays.

      So, my vision is to build a minaret-style tower that is 50-feet tall to the tip of the spire (a lighted spire, triggered by Muons!) with a shaded observation platform at 30-feet high (the height of top of the the ASub dome) that you can climb up to via an internal ladder. In the center of the observation deck level there will be a continually operating spark chamber for visualizing cosmic rays hanging from the center of the ceiling. Attached to this email is a jpg of roughly what the structure will look like. The upper and lower thirds of the tower support structure will be wrapped in canvas painted in designs inspired by Moorish tilings and incorporating Feynman diagrams of the quantum interactions taking place in the spark chamber itself. The tower will be illuminated on the exterior with color fading LED lights that will dynamically affect the painted imagery.

      I am asking for help to make this happen, and boy am I going to need it! A number of very talented folks are quite excited and have signed up already -- but more are needed to bring this to reality. Many hands will be needed to make this happen: {grant writers/editors, kickstarter wranglers, lighting specialists, carpenters, welders and decorative artists} among other roles.

      The most urgent need for right now is to write a nice version of all this for the grant. This necessary bit of work has to be submitted by February 15th! I know, yikes, but it is doable and with your help it really should not be all that hard. I am not the best, most concise writer, so I need someone to help guide the verbal torrent with me. I also need someone who is willing to setup a web-page for this and help deal with documentation of the project. And, of course, fund-raising. Even if I get grant from Burning man, it will not cover the entire project. A rough guesstimate right now is an upper bound of $18,000, which includes shipping to the Playa. Oh, and did I mention that I want to BURN this sucker when it is done?

      Once the ball is rolling on these aspects of the project, the research & design stage will need to be finalized. Then we can start purchasing materials and begin fabrication. The goal is to cut nothing on-Playa, all of the wood and metal will be fabricated here in Boston and test built so that there will be, hopefully few surprises. There will be a lot of fabrication hands needed and early and late crew and daily on-Playa support for building it and taking it all down/cleaning up. So, if you have always wanted to be on-Playa a week early to be a part of working hard to build the City from nothing and watch it grow, then here is a great opportunity for you.

      If any of this sounds interesting to you and you want to help make this all happen, please respond directly to me off-list and thanks for reading.



      Spark Chamber Description:

      Here is a more detailed description of the heart of the matter, the Spark Chamber itself.
      I want to build a type of cosmic ray 'telescope' for Burning Man this year that is called a spark chamber. Basically, you take an enclosure filled with a noble gas such as Neon or Argon at slightly less than atmospheric pressure, fill it with a stack of precisely spaced, flat metal plates, alternately connected to a 6-10-kV power supply and ground. At the top and bottom are blocks of plastic scintillator coupled to photo-multiplier-tubes (PMTs). When a cosmic ray traverses the device two things happen When it passes through the scintillators it interacts and leaves photons behind which get picked up by the PMT. If both PMTs pick up signal at the same time, then we know that a cosmic ray has passed through the entire device and we use this as a trigger. When the particle passes through the gas in the detector volume, it ionizes a path between all of the plates. Now for the fun part, the coincident PMT signals trigger the discharge of a spark gap, which then allows high voltage to be placed on every other plate. The paths between the plates ionized by the particle are now more conductive than the rest of the gas volume. Enough so that the high voltage on the plates can induce a spark to bridge the gaps between them, thus making a visible trail of lightning that follows the particles trajectory and an audible snap.

      If the particle happens to interact directly with an atomic nucleus in the device, then it can cause a shower of sparks to occur. A cosmic ray passes through every square centimeter of the area near the Earth's surface about once a second. However, they do not interact very often, a single cosmic ray can penetrate through meters of lead. Luckily for us, that even though our detection rate is low, the flux is so high that we will be able to witness events on the order of one every 5-10 seconds

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