Detecting Radiation: Build Your Own Cloud Chamber!

October 25, 2020, 10:30 am

11:00 am

Radiation can be a scary topic for people to discuss and interact with. Many people believe that any non-zero amount of radiation can have an extremely harmful effect. However, radiation is often safely used for imaging, at the dentist for example, and it is frequently utilized in radiation oncology. In fact, we are continuously exposed to background radiation that we can neither see or feel, coming from cosmic rays or materials in the earth.

In this session we hope to bring this radiation to light! We demonstrate a ‘cloud chamber’, a small device to visualize radiation that can be made at home with materials available at the supermarket! Inside the cloud chamber a vapor is created that condenses on the charged particles (background radiation) as they pass through the chamber, leaving trails that are visible to the naked eye. Along with this demonstration we hope to provide a description of the types of particles that are visible, how to recognize them in the chamber and their sources. We will also put this into context by demonstrating another method of detecting these particles, the Geiger-Muller detector, and comparing the levels of radiation due to background sources or imaging to public health recommendations.


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The UCSF Radiation Oncology Department is a Global Leader at the Forefront of Technology. We combine clinical excellence, innovative research, the latest equipment, and exceptional education in personalized cancer therapy.