Modern science is becoming increasingly polarised from everyday culture, in which most people’s interaction with the subject is filtered through the media’s lens. The abstract concepts in today’s cutting edge science are completely isolated from relatable life, and the public’s understanding.
This project asks how design could be used as a tool to illustrate and communicate these abstract ideas without watering them down? By creating a physical artefact I aimed to democratise science to a certain extent. Using only cheap, common components, I built my own particle accelerator – in two weeks.
The most extensive media coverage given over to modern science over the last 5 years has been on the particle physics research occurring in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern in Switzerland. On the completion of the LHC, the press was awash with stories of the end of the universe, Black Holes and nuclear destruction. These predictions proved groundless of course, but why was the public allowed to be so misinformed about the project, and why was the actual research, as to what would be achieved from the LHC, so distorted? Whose responsibility is it to see that cutting edge science is reported impartially? There’s clearly is a gap to be filled between the scientists and the reporting media.
This gap may be exploited through the development of this project and the potential involvement of amateur scientists. Today in the UK, there are in excess of 40,000 amateur astronomers, with this figure growing steadily. In the 18th century ‘gentlemen scientists’ gave birth to the era of ‘enlightenment’, where scientific discovery and advancements led to most of the fundamental scientific principles we have today. How can today’s growing community of amateurs become part of the cutting edge of science? CERN announced in 2009 that they were appealing for members of the public to donate personal processing power to help run complicated simulations of particle collisions, but what if this growing community could contribute in a greater sense? Our knowledge of science, and its complexity has grown exponentially since the 1700s, but could a second ‘enlightenment’ in the next 50 years steer the forefront of science, bringing its principles to a wider audience? What tools or platforms may be created in this time to help support this paradigm, and the needs of this emerging community of amateur scientists? How can I be a particle physicist?
My particle accelerator uses a high vacuum pump to create a vacuum chamber inside the glass tubing. Simultaneously, a voltage of 45,000V is applied across two electrodes. The hugh potential difference forces the electrons to gather at the tip of the aluminium cathode spike. When the opposite voltage is applied to the coiled anode, it rips the electrons from the spike, accelerating them down the tube. As the electrons reach the coil, they begin to collide, losing energy and emitting some of this as visible light. Some however, accelerate past the anode coil, and collide with the phosphorus lining at the end of the tube. This reaction causes photons of light to be released, resulting in visible specks of light. This project aims to show that design can be used as a tool to take people beyond what most of us think is possible, and after seeing it, you just might think a little differently.
“On our way to the impossible, we might just find something eminently doable.” – NASA