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A cloud chamber to see the invisible

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Installed at the start of the 2020 academic year, the cloud chamber makes cosmic and terrestrial radiation visible. This equipment, located on the first floor of the Department of Electronics, Optronics and Signal Processing (DEOS), is designed for students to study the natural radiation environment that affects the development of embedded electronic systems for aerospace applications.

Natural ambient radioactivity includes many different ionizing particles. These particles are very small and move at high speeds, which makes them invisible to the naked eye. They can be distinguished from one another by the shape of the trails they leave behind them in the cloud chamber.

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Cloud Chamber

The principle behind this chamber is based on maintaining a layer of supersaturated alcohol vapor on a plate cooled to -30°C. In this region, the charged particles produce a trail of condensation points that lead to the formation of a cloud of alcohol visible to the naked eye. This phenomenon is similar to the formation of a cloud of water called a contrail (short for condensation trail) when a jet airplane flies through a supersaturated region of the atmosphere.

Tools for training and research

This equipment helps to increase understanding among students at ISAE-SUPAERO about the effects of radiation environments (atmospheric neutrons, cosmic rays, radiation belts, solar flares, etc.) on embedded systems, whether space systems, launch systems, avionics systems, computer centers or embedded electronics in automobiles.

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Impact of natural radiation on electronic systems / Nuclétudes

Electronic chips have become more miniaturized and perfected, which mean greater sensitivity to the natural radiation environment. Today, the risks posed by radiation in the development of state-of-the-art electronic systems must be taken into account. Along these lines, ISAE-SUPAERO has been studying the effects of ionizing particles on components and electronic systems. The Institute is therefore focusing on the techniques and methods to be applied when designing or operating critical electronic systems to protect them from malfunctions.

In order to counter the impact of the natural radiation environment on systems design, ISAE-SUPAERO and NUCLETUDES have signed an agreement for a chair to promote, among the Institute’s students, the major role of electronics in modern aeronautical and space systems, which requires implementing protective solutions that are essential to these systems’ robustness throughout their lifetimes. The courses in connection with this chair highlight the need to take into account – starting in the design phase – the disturbances caused by such radiation on embedded electronic systems to ensure their robustness.

Materialization of natural radiation thanks to the Cloud Chamber


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