Joel Achenbach Visits Fermilab

Joel Achenbach’s Sunday Washington Post Magazine column discusses his visit to Fermilab and how much he learned. I felt compelled to post two comments, including one on an attempt to build a cloud chamber at CERN.

The mention of the cloud chamber required me to tell this story. I did my Ph.D research at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. We used a bubble chamber which is much the same idea as a cloud chamber but used cryogenic liquids instead of humid air. There were only a small number of American graduate students at CERN in those days, and we tended to hang out together when we weren’t working. One day we decided to build a cloud chamber. One of the key components of a cloud chamber is dry ice. Well, it turns out that modern particle physics labs do not stock dry ice. You can get liquid nitrogen by the ton or liquid helium, but no dry ice. We took a bus all the way across Geneva to find dry ice. The cloud chamber worked and we saw particles in real time.


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