Monday, April 19, 2010

Building a working cloud chamber, part 3.

Once again, things are never dull around here. Yesterday Joe, our new housemate, went to the Wailuku river and found a Jackson's Chameleon in the back of a riverside cave where it had no reason to be. He brought it back, and I got some really cool pictures. Those things are amazing
Samuel L. the Jackson's Chameleon
Where to begin with this incredible little animal? The eyes that swivel independently? The tongue mechanism so excellently designed for catching insects? The remarkable color-changing ability? The prehensile tail and powerful gripping claws? It's just absolutely astonishing to see one up close (for the record, Jackson's Chameleons, like all chameleons, are native to Africa, not Hawai`i). And Sam is a rather large specimen, probably a good 7-8 inches from horn tip to tail. He reminds me a lot of a dinosaur from the Triceratops genus.

We also ran our cloud chamber experiment again yesterday, and finally, some results! With an old slide projector to provide a powerful light source and a modified bicycle pump to provide a vacuum, we managed to produce a thick cloud almost as soon as we had the setup complete. Now, the experiment was not 100% successful because of one fact: we were unable to catch a particle trail on camera. The reason for this is because our radiation source seems to be a dud. We did see several streaks that we believe to be cosmic ray tracks (high-speed particles from outer space that shower the earth), but nary a track did we see coming from our americium. This happening left us fairly puzzled, as americium is supposed to put out copious amounts of alpha particles (helium nuclei). Scratching the surface of the americium to remove any possible coating had no effect, so we were left scratching our heads and had to conclude that our radiation source was either a fraud, or else that we really don't know what to look for. I'd like to get ahold of a Geiger-counter and independently verify its radioactivity, but in the meantime we'll see if we can borrow a radioactive sample from the school (one of the professors has a lump of uranium he offered to lend us).
Still, seeing cosmic ray tracks (if that is indeed what they were) is pretty cool. These are high-speed (~99% of the speed of light) protons and electrons that travel through space, and constantly shower down on the earth. We saw one every couple of minutes, on average.

I should log off and get some sleep soon, but I thought I'd mention the interesting coincidences surrounding our house at the moment. I've already related my computer troubles, but I neglected to mention that Jonathan's laptop suddenly refused to turn on about a day after mine started having trouble, and the fact that John's laptop's power cord actually caught fire two days ago, leaving him without a computer as well. Thankfully, I can still use my new computer well enough if it manages to avoid locking up while starting up, and I have my old computer as well, so between me and Josh we've been able to provide internet access for them so far. So, coincidence? Or some electro-magnetic anomaly plaguing our house? As the saying goes, once is chance, twice is coincidence, but three times...three times makes you wonder...


  1. The chameleon is so cool!!

  2. Do you remember the little chameleon we caught in Israel? It was like the very first day we were there. This guy is way cool, though. Why the name Sam?

  3. Yes, I remember catching a chameleon, although I don't remember much else because it was so long ago.
    It's a Jackson's Chameleon, so Samuel L. the Jackson's Chameleon. (Samuel Jackson is an actor who played Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequels) I thought of Andrew, but they'd already decided.

  4. I don't suppose the radioactive experiments have anything to do with electronic malfunctions?

  5. If they do, I am in big trouble. :)
    But I don't see how they could effect my housemate's computers, since we're not doing the experiments at my house...

  6. We're not running and radioactive experiments in our house? But... Oh snap, never mind...


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