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Observing the interior of matter

In order to explore the remarkable processes in the interior of matter, detectors of very high precision and performance are needed. Georges Charpak's invention of a new particle detector – the multiwire proportional chamber – has dramatically changed the exploration of the world of particles.

 

Charpak's invention

With the multiwire chamber it became possible to determine the tracks of charged particles – the smallest constituents of matter – with great precision. However, the success of Charpak's multiwire chamber depended mainly on the enormous increase in data-taking rate.
    Every single wire in the multiwire chamber acts as a detector. A wire can detect thousands of particles per second. This makes it possible to study even very rare processes in the world of particles.

The matter in our surroundings

The great variety of matter around us consists of about a hundred elements. There are, however, only three building blocks, three particles, the proton, the neutron and the electron, from which all the elements are constructed. They are incredibly small. The proton and the neutron have a diameter of 10-15m (a femtometre or a millionth of a millionth of a millimetre) and the electron is at least 1,000 times smaller. Our eyes are unable to observe these particles; that is where the scientist's detectors take over.

 

Particle collisions

Physicists study matter by causing particles to collide with each other. In such a collision remarkable things can occur, such as the creation of new particles. Most of these new particles do not normally exist in our surroundings. But when the universe was created, all these particles played a role as important as the proton's, the neutron's and the electron's. We know that many of these particles are constructed from even more fundamental constituents. The proton and the neutron are constructed from quarks, while the electron on the other hand appears to be elementary.

 

To penetrate further and further into the innermost parts of matter and to study the exciting processes that occur there, detectors of extremely high performance are needed. This is where Georges Charpak comes into the picture.



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