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Detectors shipped in cooking pots
Detectors shipped in cooking pots

Detectors shipped in cooking pots

Looking for an inexpensive and safe way to transport delicate particle detectors? Try pressure cookers and child safety seats.
Picture: MPI für Physik
When researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich drive fragile germanium crystals across Europe, they resort to conventional household equipment to keep the crystals safe.
The fist-size crystals have to remain under clean-room conditions to keep their particle detection prowess. Pressure cookers, normally used to cook food and steam vegetables, are the perfect solution. The MPI Mechanics Division has outfitted seven pots with connectors and pressure gauges. After placing the crystals in the pots, researchers pump the air out of the pressure cookers to protect the crystals from contaminants. The team then straps the pots into child safety seats, creating a low-tech solution for the transportation of high-tech equipment.
Picture: MPI für Physik
The crystals, produced at Canberra France, are prototype detectors developed for the Germanium Detector Array, or GERDA. Located deep underground in the Gran Sasso mountains in Italy, GERDA will search for the existence of the nuclear process known as neutrinoless double beta decay to gain more information on neutrinos, elusive particles produced in the center of the sun. Scientists want to determine the masses of neutrinos and find out whether neutrinos are their own antiparticles.
The first crystals have already made the trip from Strasbourg to Munich, a distance of about 400 kilometers. Later they will travel to the Gran Sasso National Laboratory. Fortunately, border controls have disappeared in most of Europe. Imagine how difficult it would have been to explain to officers the transport of these precious GERDA “babies.” Just in case, the drivers carry with them documents to prove that the pressure cookers are tested transport containers.

Silke Zollinger, published in 'symmetry. dimensions of particle physics', vol. 6, issue 3, July 2009

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