Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Cloud Chamber Mark VI

This is the sixth version of a prototype particle detector I have built over the last 3 years. I see Mark VI and its’ kindred are a continued metaphor on the themes of the nature of reality. Whereas painting is an extension of the illusory reality like the shadows in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, these projects allow visual evidence of reality that intersects our lives constantly yet lies beneath the usual visual perception.

This tool, known as a Langsdorf Cloud Chamber, allows one to witness the passage of some of the fundamental particles that make up everything in the universe as they pass unhindered through our world. Like spirits they pass through air, earth, and flesh and bone. We are in rivers of energy. It ebbs and flows around and through us and thus questions the concept of inside and out. The fact that this is the same material that makes all things questions the reality of individuality and distinctiveness.

Discussion of the project:

The cloud chamber project was recontextualized in a new format. The concept was to roll out the chamber in a transparent fashion revealing all of the components. The picture above shows the drawing I made in early October that started to form this idea. In my project I wanted to achieve a few (1) make a formal and aesthetic modernist statement in white and transparent media, (2) do good science, (3) have both of these themes play against one another to suggest the philosophical ideas I am concerned with. The fact that one can approach the experiment from all angles except below is highly effective strategy bridging those concepts of good public science and aesthetics.

Mark VI Technical

My scheme in this version is to illuminate all the parts and solve the problem with the focal length on the camera. In previous generations I had to adjust the camera as the angle the dry ice sublimated. The plexi structure solved the first issue by revealing all the parts; of course this required me to be very precise and neat in the fabrication, you cannot patch plexi very easily. The focal length issue was solved by making the table top ride down as it rode on ice. Four pins are intersect the platform holding ice as well as the second top on which the experiment sits. As the ice vaporizes*, the experiment and camera descend as a unit solving the earlier problem.
*dry ice goes from solid to vapor without turning to liquid at standard earth temperature/pressure, thus it is dry.

For two weeks straight I put in 15-18 hour days in the wood shop, making 5 or 6 trips per day to the hardware store to buy stuff, fabricating the Plexi box, doing research at the plastics shop. The actual craftsmanship became nerve-wracking. Even though all of the component took amazing focus, the custom work on the plexi box was a prime example.

Once the basic box was fabricated I needed to attach all of my equipment, which required careful cutting and milling of the plexi box. This took a lot of patience, as this material can be super fragile when cutting. Plexi shows any mistake so every surface was cleaned and padded between each move. Measure, make one cut, carefully clean, pad, measure, and so forth. Then repeat the procedure again. On top of that, the material costs were $200.00, the threat of breaking the materials meant I had to go excruitating slow: think out every procedure, discuss them with the shop manager, etc.

It was very important to me to fabricate each and every part of the experiment device. A few parts of course are off-the-shelf: the video camera, the fan, the ventilation hose... Overall I wanted to be the author of this sculpture. I wanted to use glass on the chamber itself for the longevity of the material. In the past I have used acrylic tube. The experimental components degrades acrylic. When I was offered a collaboration by Jeff Sarimiento of the SJSU Glass Lab, I eagerly accepted his proposal to make the experimental vessel. Mr. Sarimiento made a glass cylinder to my specs with the help of the glass blowing students. I feel that this custom labware only added to toward the formation an aesthetic object.


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  2. This is incredible, I had been wanting some discussion about how it was made and thanks for this.