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TRIUMF Fascinates with Physics at Barn Raising

15 September 2009


On Saturday, September 12, a group of volunteers from TRIUMF headed to the Old Barn Community Centre to participate in the University Neighbourhoods Association's (UNA) 3rd Annual Barn Raising Open House. The event celebrated the Old Barn Community Centre's third year of operation and provided an opportunity for local residents to enjoy activities and entertainment from a number of associations, groups, institutions, and performers from the university community. This is the second year that TRIUMF has participated in the Barn Raising.

Visitors, young and old, who ventured up the stairs to the second floor of the Old Barn were greeted by volunteers from TRIUMF and National Research Council's Institute for Fuel Cell Innovation (NRC IFCI). Here they found a host of interactive games and demonstrations designed to inspire and encourage an interest in science. The room was constantly buzzing, whether it was from the electric sparks of the Van de Graff generator demonstrated by Research Associate Des Ramsay, the winding-up of NRC's fuel cell powered toy cars that whizzed around the floor, or the shouts of excitement and animation as kids and adults alike experienced the wonders of science.

Aside from the fun and games, the Barn Raising provided an excellent opportunity to explain the work conducted at TRIUMF to the local community, and especially to engage and inspire its young visitors. In one corner of the room, Beam Physicist Colin Morton, Research Scientist Matt Pearson, and Outreach Coordinator Marcello Pavan demonstrated the relationship between TRIUMF's cyclotron, beam lines, and experiments at TRIUMF's ISAC rare-isotope-beam facility with a hands-on game where kids, playing the role of the cyclotron, accelerated particles (that is, threw juggling balls) at a model titanium nucleus (48 red and green balls held together by Velcro and hung from the ceiling). The kids then used the periodic table of the elements and the chart of the nuclides to determine what they had created in the collision.

In another corner, graduate student Anthony Hillairet held audiences captive with a demonstration of superconducting materials.  In one such demonstration, a rare-earth magnet (of the sort you might find at a hardware store) was made to float on the magnetic field generated by eddy currents induced in a piece of superconducting material (cooled to about -200°C with liquid nitrogen) by the magnet itself.  In a similar demonstration, two pieces of the material were placed in a Styrofoam train car, cooled with liquid nitrogen, and placed on a track made of permanent magnets.  To the viewers' surprise and delight, the superconductor floated and moved effortlessly above the magnetic track, leaving behind it a smoke-like trail from the liquid nitrogen.

As usual, TRIUMF's Cloud Chamber was a big hit, and a big thank you must go to the UNA who provided a black canopy tent which made it much easier to view. Tim Meyer, Head of Strategic Planning and Communication, was on hand to explain that what the mesmerized onlookers observed in the cloud chamber was naturally occurring cosmic radiation. Each pattern observed in the chamber's supersaturated alcohol vapor corresponded with a different type of naturally occurring radiation: electrons and muons from cosmic ray events, and alpha particles from radon decay.

Overall, the event was a tremendous success. A number of kids spent the majority of the afternoon upstairs playing with the demonstrations and talking with the scientists and many visitors expressed an interest in touring the TRIUMF facility.

Thank you to those at the Old Barn Community Centre and the UNA for your hard work in putting on this event and for providing TRIUMF with an opportunity to reach out to its neighbours; and thank you to the TRIUMF volunteers who shared their passion and enthusiasm for physics with all who visited TRIUMF's booth at the Barn Raising. 


-- Meghan Magee, Communications Assistant