How To: Make a cloud chamber

David Ng has a great guide to building your very own sub-atomic-particle-spotting device.


  1. Cloud chambers are cool in an old school, dirt-simple use of basic physics kind of way. The goal is to create a gas cooled below its condensation temperature that is metastable due to its dilute nature. Ionizing radiation passing through the gas provides the activation necessary to accelerate the condensation, and a “vapor” trail appears that is clearly visible to the eye when illuminated with a bright light source. Clever, simple, and it works. I have been wanting to build one for a while, but I am supposed to publish papers or something…

        1.  If you don’t have kids of your own, borrow some from a friend. Be the neat “uncle” who tempts them with Mad Science and Science Fiction.

  2. In the past I have several times taught a boy scout merit badge (in Nuclear) session. (I am a grad student in nuclear engineering.) We have repeatedly tried to create a cloud chamber using a similar, yet slightly different, approach, and it never REALLY worked.

    Every time I bring up this topic to Physics grad students they laugh me off, telling me to give up.

    I’ll have to try this approach! Perhaps it will work better.

  3. this is what i built for my 5th grade science project. my dad always got really big ideas then made me build them through much tears. it did work though, and i didnt even win first place :(

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