Visualizing Radiation

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Radiation is invisible, but it’s not too difficult to build an apparatus that lets you see it. This video shows the ghostly aftermath of passing radiation in a cloud chamber, one of the first set-ups used to study radiation. The chamber contains a radioactive source and chilled isopropyl alcohol. The alcohol forms a supersaturated vapor — essentially a cloud in waiting — inside the chamber.

When a radioactive particle gets emitted from the source, it streaks through the chamber, colliding with atoms and ionizing them. Those ions then serve as nucleation sites where alcohol condenses into droplets. It’s these condensation trails that we see bloom and decay in the particle’s wake. (Image and video credit: L. Gledhill)

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