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!

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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!

The NOvA Experiment at Fermilab: Detecting Neutrinos

When cosmic rays collide with atoms in our upper atmosphere, showers of secondary particles are produced. This secondary radiation includes pions, which quickly decay into muons and muon neutrinos. There are three types of neutrinos: muon neutrinos, electron neutrinos, and tau neutrinos. It is theorized that neutrinos of any type change from one type to another, but scientists have yet to observe a muon neutrino changing into an electron neutrino. Making this observation for the first time is one of the goals of the NOvA experiment at Fermilab. Check out this link to see cosmic ray collisions detected by the NOvA Detectors  happening in real-time, or watch the video below to see an outline of the NOvA experiment.

Smart Phone Application to Detect Cosmic Rays

Check out this article that explains a smart phone app currently being developed with a purpose similar to what the SOLTA group is doing. It may be possible to use an array of smart phones instead of an array of roof-top detectors to detect and locate cosmic rays!

TRIUMF Package Arrival

Here’s the first of hopefully many short videos documenting this project. Watch as one of our members, Michael Palermo, talks about the package we recently received from TRIUMF. Also take this chance to get a look at some detector components!

Engineering Group Update

The engineering group, referring to both the builders and coders, makes up the bulk of SOLTA. Over the past few months, we’ve gotten the right people WHMIS and machine shop trained and we’ve worked on assembling and troubleshooting the electric components of the detector. The next step is to make a prototype of the detector and its housing unit.

With the recent arrival of some detector components from TRIUMF in Vancouver, we now have a few sets of PMT’s (photomultiplier tubes), scintillator paddles, and light guides: the crucial components for catching muons. Considering that these components make up the majority of the detector, we needed them to be able to start designing a housing unit for the detector. Once we received these components, their dimensions were known and we could finally start working on drawing blueprints.

There are some considerations to be made while drafting the housing unit blueprints. Being placed on top of a roof and kept there year round, the detector will be exposed to a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions, so the housing unit must be able to keep the detector safe and secure.  Moreover, the housing unit must be designed to be easily assembled on school grounds. We would like the high school students to make as much of the detector as possible in order to maximize their learning experience, but not all high schools have access to a full machine shop. Working within these constraints, each school will be provided with the necessary materials and thorough instructions on how to build the housing unit. Depending on the machining ability of each high school, some schools might receive pre-machined or pre-assembled units.


By the end of this week, the engineering team hopes to have a few sets of blueprints for the housing unit complete. Once a prototype of the unit is created, it will be fitted with the scintillator paddles, PMT’s, and light guides that we received from TRIUMF. With the rest of the electronic components mostly assembled and some code for taking readings from the detector written, we should have a finished prototype in the near future. Keep checking back for updates; things are just starting to get fun!