Friday, December 31, 2010

Exciting Things Going on at CCLDAS

Happy New Year!!

Even with most students out of town for winter break, work is feverishly going on as we await the arrival of the Pelletron (the business end of the dust accelerator) which will be arriving in early January. We have spent the last week finalizing the vacuum system by installing cryogenic pumps and other critical components (live progress can be seen here:

Meanwhile, I thought I would share some of the interesting pictures taken while operating the small accelerator (which is 1/150 the accelerating voltage of the big one). The first picture is our Star Trekesque warp drive which is used to accelerate our particles in and out of existence using principles of multi-dimensionality...

Okay, it is really just a look down one of our detectors which measures the velocity and charge of dust particles coming down the beamline... equally as cool as a warp drive! It uses sensitive electronics that can measure the image charge induced on the inner tube as the dust goes whizzing by at 100km/s.

These pictures show what happens when 20kV discharges in air. The images are from the back of the dust source where the dust is initially charged up and shoots through a pin-hole on the other side. The lightning is not supposed to happen, by the way.

When in operation on the big accelerator, these discharges won't occur since it will be surrounded by gas that prevents arcing. In the meantime we are working on ways of insulating the connectors.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

DTS ready to go!

Hi everyone, for my first post, I will be sharing a little on the current status of the Electrostatic Lunar Dust Analyzer (ELDA). Shown in the picture, ELDA is consisted of a deflection region that is sandwiched between two DTS's.

The DTS's purpose is to detect both high speed interstellar as well as slow moving lunar dust. This is done through the use of charge sensitive amplifiers (CSA) made from off-the-shelf components. With four planes of wire grid, charge from a particle passing through can be recorded and analyzed for speed and trajectory. In conjunction, with the deflection region, the mass of the particle passing through the instrument can be calculated using the trajectories obtained before and after the deflection region.

The instrument is partially completed with all slow speed CSA mounted. It is in a standby status ready to be tested in the vacuum chamber at NPL. All that needs to be done now is making a platform for the instrument to rest upon in the chamber. More updates will follow!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

AGU Fall Meeting 2010

To give you an idea of the scope, this is about a quarter of
the poster hall.  There's a total of about 2400 posters per day.
Hey everyone, most of the CCLDAS team is now at the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting.  To give you an idea of the scope of this conference there were 14,000 attendees in 2007 (according to Wikipedia it's the largest annual scientific conference in the world).  I've been cruising around the conference checking out posters and going to talks and its been very exhausting with the sheer amount of information that you get bombarded with at this conference (not to mention that it happens every year during finals week so I'm always sleep deprived from final projects and studying).  There hasn't been a whole lot on the moon just yet at the conference, big day is tomorrow, there are talks all day on the moon, so I'll give an update on that after it happens.

Me in front of my poster with soda in hand ready to explain
how our accelerator works and what we're working on now.
On another note, I actually presented my poster today and there was a significant amount of interest in the dust accelerator.  Usually people just want to know what a dust accelerator is so I only get to talk about the left third or so of my poster but this time there were a bunch of people who were also excited at the other things we've been doing, like signal filtering to get better accuracies in measurements.  I was planning on standing by the poster for 2 hours at the conference and ended up talking for almost 4.5 hours straight!  I'll make sure to take more photos as the conference goes on and they'll all be up on the flickr account sometime this or next week.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Science is messy

The Colorado Center for Lunar Dust and Atmospheric Studies (CCLDAS) is a NASA-sponsored research center located at the University of Colorado. We have a diverse research program including lab experiments, simulations, and theoretical modeling, all aimed at understanding the complex and fascinating processes at work around the Moon. NASA has been kind enough to provide several million dollars worth of funding to support this wonderful scientific program. The research possibilities and opportunities for education are endless.

So for my first post, I'm going to talk about grout.


Yes, grout.

Part of our research program involves the construction of a hypervelocity dust accelerator, which is a machine designed to accelerate very small dust grains to enormous speeds; up to 100 km/sec, or more than 200,000 miles per hour. Among other things, this will allow us to undertake experiments in the lab which model what's going on at the surface of the Moon.

Moon Image 1

Forget about the grout for a minute. This is the Moon.

Since there's dust around the Moon, and other places in the solar system, we can additionally use the accelerator to study how scientific instruments behave when dust particles are slamming into them. In fact, our group has many instruments under development which not only tolerate these impacts, but are designed to exploit them. Cleverly designed instruments can tell you not only where high-speed dust in space is coming from, but what it's composed of.

But before we can test these instruments, or undertake experiments, we have to build the accelerator. The machine works by first electrically charging dust particles, and then passing them through an enormous voltage difference, up to 3 million volts. The most important (or at least the most expensive) component of the machine is this high voltage source, which is custom-made for us, and has the size and weight of a small car. It's being delivered to our lab in mid-January 2011, so right now there's a mad scramble to get everything ready for it. The machine sits on rails, which need a nice, even, level surface to rest on.

The floor of our lab is not nice, even or level.


Concrete should not be going up and down like that

The level of the floor varies by as much as two inches over the length of the machine, in places by about an inch of height over a couple of feet. We had a couple of options, ranging from shimming the rails (finicky), grinding the concrete down (REALLY messy, and might damage the building), to pouring pads of a special self-leveling epoxy mixture called "deep-pour grout", which a month ago I had no idea existed. Things were slightly complicated by the fact that (1) we had two weeks to do the entire job before the fall AGU meeting, and (2) none of us had ever done this before. Neither of these can stop a good scientist.

The results are not pretty, but are on flickr for your amusement.

Simulation Tool

In case you didn't already hear back in July, an extremely well balanced and streamlined simulation engine, Lagoa Multiphysics 1.0, has been developed by Thiago Costa under the banner of Lagoa Technologies. Both graphics buffs and programmers alike are raving about the potential applications for such a relatively lightweight and versatile engine.

Autodesk, creator of my long-time top-choice for modeling, effects and animation , 3ds Max has already acquired the licensing rights to bundle the new engine with their development suite.

“ICE affords developers greater speed and agility when it comes to creating custom effects. It is also fully multi-threaded making it unique among simulation capabilities integrated into other 3D animation applications,” said Stig Gruman, Autodesk vice president Digital Entertainment. “We’re tremendously proud that Thiago Costa seized the potential of ICE to design such an incredibly realistic simulation framework – one that also allows multiple physics solvers to operate at the same time in the same scene and even to interact.”

Check it out:

Is it too early to add this to my christmas list? =3

2010 Fall AGU

This is going to be about my 25th AGU ...... it is still stressful to get ready! The large and colorful posters are a pain to make and a pain to print.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Hello and welcome to the new student blog at the Colorado Center for Lunar Dust and Atmospheric Studies (CCLDAS).  My name is Anthony Shu. I'm a graduate student in physics at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a member of CCLDAS.  CCLDAS is a collection of professors, scientists, and students who want to study the moon.  This blog is being brought to you by the students of CCLDAS to give you an insider's view of what happens at CCLDAS:  the cool goings-on, exciting events, and the fun of finding out how stuff works on the moon.
We are very interested in the moon for a variety of reasons.  From 1966-1968, a series of 7 robotic spacecraft were sent to the moon called the Surveyor program.  These landers saw many strange phenomena, including an unexplained glow on the horizon.  The Apollo program, running from 1966-1972, successfully landed people on the moon.  During these astronauts' trips to the moon, they also talked about seeing a strange glow on the horizon of the moon.  It is believed that this glow was actually microscopic dust particles levitated into the air and scattering the sun's light.  To this day, we still do not know whether or not this is true.
In order to better understand this and many of the other strange things that have been seen on the moon, we are building a dust accelerator to simulate the environment on the moon.  Just like it sounds, this machine will fire microscopic dust particles up to 200,000 mph into a chamber that can be filled with a simulated sun and a bed of dust particles.  With the accelerator, we'll try to recreate and improve our understanding of lunar phenomena, like the legendary lunar glow.
So, follow our student blog and find out what we're learning, from mistakes to eureka moments.  And don't forget to check out the webcam, which shows us working on the accelerator in real time!