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1. Test and build a few Beta ERGO pixels using the last remaining circuit boards from last summer. Sloane is leading the team to build these “Beta” units which are the same as the units now placed around the world.
2. William is leading the team to build a few Generation 3 ERGO pixels using the Freescale Ethermega processor board and a custom ERGO “shield” which contains the Geiger counter and GPS systems. These pixels are functionally the same as our existing “Beta” units now placed around the world. We have built a few of these. One is online in the map at www.ergotelescope.org as pixel 333. We’ve built three others that have the internet connections disabled, so they can be used in balloon payloads. We’ve sent two of these to experimental groups in Italy, and one more is being tested for a balloon launch in Latvia. The Generation 3 board has a couple of disadvantages, though: it only works on local area networks that have DHCP enabled and no security; and, they’re expensive (the Ethermega board costs around $120). That’s why we’re also working Generation 4 and 5.
3. Generation 4 uses a Raspberry Pi processor board along with our custom ERGO Geiger-counter/GPS circuit board. Since the Raspberry Pi is actually a linux desktop computer, it includes all the hardware and software to enable connections to any kind of LAN you can imagine, including WiFi! The Raspberry Pi is amazingly inexpensive, too: about US$35, which will bring the total cost of parts for an ERGO pixel down to under $150. We’ve designed the custom board for the Raspberry Pi, and bare boards are now being fabbed in China. We hope to have a manufacturer build complete boards that can be purchased by anyone who wants to build their own pixel.
4. Generation 5 is a totally self-contained ERGO pixel on a single circuit board. Simon and his team are breadboarding that system, and we hope to have software developed and the first boards being assembled by the end of the summer. Generation 5 will be the lowest possible cost, because it is only one circuit board, so we don’t have to buy a Raspberry Pi or Ethermega board to build a complete pixel. Simon’s team is also working to develop a better muon detector for future ERGO pixels. They are trying to build a PIN-diode detector with a plastic scintillator, and they are setting up a vacuum-coating system to attempt making our own silicon detector wafers.
5. Another team, led by Steven, is working on ERGO data analysis. They are developing apps and techniques to look at the very large database of information we have built up over the last few years. We expect to find patterns in time and spatial distributions, some of them random, some caused by our pixel’s, themselves, and perhaps some caused by natural physics.
Here’s my first one, working at the Syntheon lab. Let’s build a bunch and send them out into the world. http://pi.mujica.org/howto.html
A lot of things worked, and we learned a lot of lessons to improve the next launch:
Then, open it with Google Earth installed.
First trial of the capsule for the ERGOnaut Mini at the Euclid Labs dock (check us out on the ERGO map: http://data.ergotelescope.org/map/google_earth).
What they figured out:
1. The ERGOnaut Mini can be much simpler–just a G-M detector with clicker and an audio MP3 recorder. Simple, cheap, and small.
2. The first trial of the steel pipe fitting design worked great, except for one thing: after four days submerged at 2 meters it had about a half inch of water inside. That should be similar to an hour at 200 meters, so we need to make that better (but they’re close!).
Alex Mattaway (RISD ’19) has been working on the industrial design for the enclosure for our next-generations pixels. Here’s the first try. It’s a 3D-printed model, but the final version will be a custom aluminum extrusion and molded front and rear covers. It’s going to look very slick, and will be a stylish and durable enclosure for pixels to come.
We’re experimenting with a new particle detector, based on a special light-sensitive “PIN” diode. We’ve adapted a circuit from Elektor, and we’ve started to experiment with it. We’re hoping to develop an inexpensive, low-power detector that works as well as or better than the Geiger-Müller tubes we’ve been using in all the pixels. If we can achieve reliable operation (not yet, but we’re trying), we’ll build a prototype board with an array of PIN diodes, trying to achieve a sensitive area similar in size to the G-M tubes.
Additional experimentation is being done to see if we can shield the G-M tubes to reduce their sensitivity to Earth-based radiation. That might reduce the number of event detections that aren’t really cosmic-ray muons.
We have a big team working on the Lightning project this summer. We’re trying to establish experimental evidence that lighting is triggered by cosmic-ray muon showers. We finally gave up on the lightning detector boards we have been using, and we’re going with a custom-designed detector board based upon a known working design. The team has prototyped it, and we’re starting to test. So far, we know it works with a high-voltage spark transformer “Jacobs Ladder,” but we haven’t successfully recorded actual lightning strikes yet.
We have all the parts we need for the new design, and Simon is designing a custom PCB. (see the article in Physics Today: “Runaway Breakdown and the Mysteries of Lightning”)
Those of you following the project will remember the ERGOnaut deep-sea diver pixel that we lost off the coast of Florida last November. We realized that with all the technology we’ve developed lately (Arduinos, shields, and detector circuits) we could make a new ERGOnaut that is WAY smaller (and less expensive to build). Matt C and his intern team is building a new ERGOnaut Mini using standard high-pressure pipe fittings, Simon’s tiny ERGOduino, and a compact battery to make a diver capable of a few thousand feet depth and weighing only ten pounds or so.