Some very exciting updates!

We’re proud to announce that SOLTA is being developed as a high school course. When this project was first started, we had our hearts set on working with high schools, but the dream was so big that we didn’t dare to aim higher than extracurricular involvement. With SOLTA as a course, we’ll have the opportunity to get our message to more students and we’re ecstatic.

We’re very thankful to Michael Franchino, physics teacher at Huron Heights Secondary School in York Region. For a course to be approved at a high school in Ontario, the application has to be put forth by a teacher who works there, and Michael is our guy! The education team is currently working with him to develop the course application and we’re starting to write an online resource for the project that can be used as a textbook in the classroom.

Meanwhile, on the technological side, things are going great. We have a detector on our roof taking data and we’re continuing to develop the detector and the associated software.

Expect more updates soon! The education team is meeting with Michael Franchino next week to talk about the proposal and get the go-ahead on our plan for the online resource.


A sudden realization and a subsequent brainstorming session about WiFi

We’ve been planning to communicate with the detectors over a wireless internet connection for a long time. We even went so far as to look into specific hardware to make it happen. But then when we actually put our detector on the roof, we realized the York University WiFi signal doesn’t reach up there. Of course it doesn’t! What purpose would WiFi on the roof serve under normal circumstances? This discovery got us thinking about the high schools where our detectors will be located and we realized it’s not likely that any of those roofs will have a WiFi signal either. This left us brainstorming about how we would retrieve data from the detectors. Should we do it the old fashioned way and go up there with a USB stick and download the data periodically? Or how about seeing if there are Ethernet ports up on top of any of those roofs and hooking the detectors straight to the internet? The craziest idea we came up with was purchasing a minimal data plan for each of the detectors in order to get onto the internet the same way cell phones do. We haven’t decided which route we’ll take yet and it very well might be different for different participating high schools, but it’s definitely something for the engineering and public relations teams to ponder.

An upcoming event: SOLTA detector demonstration at Scott Library on Wednesday, September 23.

For Science Literacy at York University, the SOLTA team will be doing a demonstration of how the detector works. If you’re near the university this Wednesday and free sometime from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm, come to the second floor of Scott Library and check it out! We’ll have  a lot of information to share, some flyers to give out, and an awesome detector to show. We hope to see you there!

We put the detector on the roof!

The SOLTA team has achieved what we’ve been working towards since the beginning: getting our detector up on the roof for testing. We rolled it over last Thursday evening and tested it on the roof with a power supply and our power distribution circuit. We used the fantastic GUI Muonic to observe the data, and were delighted to see that everything was in working order. We’ve left it up there wrapped and water-proofed until next time.

From left to right: Professor Scott Menary, Chris, Robin, Olga, and Javjeet

From left to right: Professor Scott Menary, Chris, Robin, Olga, and Javjeet

Introducing the education team!

Construction of the detector has been going great! A simplified testing detector (lacking solar panels, GPS, wifi, and some other fancy touches) is almost ready to go up on the roof of a building at York. Since this part of the project has been going so well, we’re looking to the future and have been considering how we’ll approach getting high schools involved. When we first started this project, we had it in mind that high school involvement would stop at the physics club level, with only the more ambitious and interested students participating. We’ve been reconsidering that point of view recently as we’ve realized how well the project could fit into the Ontario grade 12 physics curriculum. From the idea of renewable energy sources to cosmology, atmospheric physics, particle physics, and relativity, this project could cover almost everything. It also presents a unique opportunity for high school physics students to do more of the hands-on work involved in putting the setup together and figuring out how to communicate with it: stuff real physicists do. In response to this new idea, we decided it would be necessary to add a new group to our team: the education group. We sent out a request in the physics department at York for education students interested in joining our project and have thus added a few new members to our team! We’re still figuring out little things, but we anticipate that the education group is about to have a lot of work to do developing ways in which this project could fit into the high school curriculum.

Breakthrough meeting

At our most recent meeting, the team attempted to put our whole setup together for the first time. It went great!

Thresholds were able to be set and communication was seamless. Our scintillators and beaglebone were connected to the DAQ card and everything was interacting how we expected. Next steps are to sort out power distribution, set up wireless access to the beaglebone, and build a protective housing for the detector. After those steps are done, all that’s left is to place our detecter on our roof for longer term testing! 

Here’s Chris, deep in thought. He’s done a very large part of the recent breakthrough work, figuring out how to talk to the DAQ card. Great job Chris!


Cosmic rays can have industrial applications!

Check out these articles that outline two industrial applications of cosmic rays!

“Using muons from cosmic rays to find fraying infrastructure.”

“Space Particles are Helping Map the Inside of Fukushima.”

Progress Progress Progress!

We have a quirky DAQ card here at SOLTA, which has made developing our prototype a challenging experience! Good news came Friday as we finally managed to coax it into doing exactly what we want: getting digital readings of cosmic ray aftermath. Our scintillator panels fluoresce when hit by a high energy particle, emitting photons. These particles of light are received by our photo multiplier tubes which turn them into avalanches of electrons, analogue electrical signals which our DAQ (Data Acquisition) card converts to digital information. The DAQ then spits out the data on a computer, and lets us know that it does in fact work, as does our whole setup!

Next steps include refining the circuit setup and threshold on the DAQ to ensure we are only sensitive to the muon energy range.

Stay tuned for more exciting SOLTA updates!

photo 3

The Particle That Broke a Cosmic Speed Limit

One of SOLTA’s objectives is to eventually detect the entry of high-energy cosmic rays by analyzing the corresponding particle shower as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere. See this amazing article for the science behind existing empirical data.

Circuit team breakthrough!

SOLTA is back with the DAQ card from Quarknet! We had some serious communication issues with it earlier this year that led us to believe the card was damaged and/or faulty, but we were recently able to make some new communication with the card and are now back working with it, simulating muon hits! Francesco from the circuit team slowed down the simulated counts from the function generator to land the 1000th count on the DAQ’s counter for this little update video! Stay tuned for more updates on the SOLTA project!