pyramid

Muons and why don’t we know about these guys?

Muons and why don’t we know about these guys?

I like particle physics (muons aren’t a tribe in the amazon). But it’s all from a distance…meaning, I’m really fascinated with how we discovered these particles and figured out if they are elementary but I’m no physicist. We all know about the two particles in the nucleus of an atom….the proton and neutron. Those aren’t elementary. They are made of quarks; up, down, charmed and others. But let’s just talk about muons and I’ll start by saying that maybe a hundred just went through your body since reading this.

We’ve known about muons for more than 70 years. Is it important to know about them? Maybe, I don’t recall hearing about them until I started reading astronomy texts. When we take classes in high school, someone (some committee) decides what we should learn and I guess they figured we need to know the “basics.” My son is learning the basics I think in 2nd grade. He brought home a bar chart that he completed. I think he could go to work and make at least minimum wage now. They seem to be learning more than we used to a long time ago. I wish they’d teach a kids physics course to him.

A muon is an elementary particle which means we don’t think it’s made of anything else. What’s interesting about muons is that we can use them to our benefit. And people are doing that now. As a matter of fact, 50 years ago someone used them to find out what was inside a pyramid. This is where this gets interesting. It’s all the sun’s fault. Particles like the muon are spraying down on us all the time and we know if they hit something in particular they might scatter slightly. Why not put a detector under the pyramid and see how those muons scatter. It was thought that this one pyramid in Egypt might have a special burial chamber. Instead of disturbing the Great Pyramid of Chefren they put detectors underneath it to find out how those muons behave after going through the pyramid.

Science is way ahead of most of us (it’s not too late to learn I tell myself). But, can you imagine how ingenius you’d be if you thought of applying something so simple as putting a detector underneath a pyramid? That guy, Luis Alvarez (Nobel Laureate), didn’t find a hidden chamber but he was seen as brilliant to come up with that idea (he was brilliant in plenty of other ways). So today we use muons in a similar way to detect what we can’t see. It’s one of the ways we search cargo for nuclear material. Muons behave a certain way when they go through high density materials. We can thank the Department of Homeland Security for applying this method to check for this stuff.

Here’s sort of a list of elementary particles, in case you wondered.

quarks, neutrinos, muons, electrons, photons, gluons, gravitons (hypothetical) and bosons (yeah, the Higgs is one of those guys).

Wow! So the protons and neutrons and electrons are all I learned in school but there are a huge number of other particles…that are known knowns…thanks for the phrase Donald R.

Here’s an interesting study using muon tomography (detection), http://www2.mate.polimi.it/ocs/viewpaper.php?id=70&cf=8

 

muon detector

muon detector

 

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Fryscraper and curved effects

Fryscraper and curved effects

As you may know, a mirrored curve in a surface (concave) can focus light and magnify as well. Makeup type mirrors come in handy when you need to see yourself, biglike. There are formulas that can calculate the amount of magnification which is basically comparing the size of the object (your real face for example) to the size of the image (the magnified face). How does 10x look to you? Helpful when you can’t put on those reading glasses.

I have a Stirling Engine (supposed to be my son’s) that has a solar collector. It’s one of those bowl-shaped mirrors that concentrates sunlight which then makes the engine work if I get it aligned with the sun just right. But what if you are an architect and you design a tall curved building with mirrored windows? The result is some intense sunlight that has burned part of a Jaguar car parked in front of the building along with burning other things. When the sun is at the right location in front of that building the heat that is focused can reach the boiling temperature of water. Just having light reflect off a flat mirrored window into your face is bad enough but focusing the light to be hot enough to melt or burn plastic or boil water?

This makes me wonder about skyscrapers in general. What’s the purpose of building the highest? I know. We’re no different than those guys who wanted those huge pyramids but no one wants a pyramid anymore. It’s all about how much you can put in one place and call it useful. This London “fryscaper” as it’s been called is also known as the walkie talkie building because it also has that shape. If we really wanted to make the best use of the structure I think the architect might have been onto something but just didn’t do it the right way. Concentrated solar power (aka, CSP) could have been a secondary goal to generate heat for the building or run some generator for electricity. What really is a green building if it can’t use some of that sun instead of heating up the bricks on it or reflecting it on it’s neighbors?

This also made me wonder (I do that a lot) how much of the sun can we collect in a mirror and focus that light somewhere to be useful instead of frying the sidewalks and people. Apparently there’s a lot of real energy producing “plants” already doing this. We just need the architects and concentrated solar power engineers to meet up so they can put this all in one building.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concentrating_solar_power

 

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