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Build an advanced DIY science project: a working model particle accelerator, using an Arduino, electromagnets and a ball bearing.
96 backers pledged AU$ 33,859 to help bring this project to life.
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AU$ 33,859

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The Personal Particle Accelerator is a 'working' model of a particle accelerator, a DIY kit that fits on your desk!  Computer controlled electromagnets whizz the steel ball around a transparent tube.  Opportunities to learn are left, right and centre, with the assembly process, running experiments, and fine tuning the hardware and software.  It's many days of entertainment and learning for you, or someone you care about who loves science.  You can even compete to get your particle accelerator running faster than anyone else.

And when someone asks 'What did you get up to on the weekend?', just casually mention you built a particle accelerator...

This advanced project was Josephine's idea when she was 12 years old!  She came home from school one day:

Jo: "Dad, I've got a school project to make a model of something scientific... can you help please..."  
Me: "Sure, what do you have in mind ?"
Jo: (thinking)... "You know the Large Hadron Collider ?"
Me: (in the spirit of encouraging kids to shoot for the stars) "Sure, let's do it !!"
Jo: "Oh... by the way, we get extra marks if it works !" 

So began the adventure of creating a working model particle accelerator.  

Jo and I worked.... hard... every Wednesday evening and every Saturday day for six months... we worked through the relevant principles of electromagnetism... Jo learnt lots of practical skills like research, design, experimenting, measuring, sawing, drilling, screwing, soldering and testing... 

Just before the project was due, we couldn't believe it, the prototype actually worked ! 

After lots of high-fives, Jo packed it in its milk-crate and demonstrated and explained it at school.  The feedback was incredible - everyone loved it, and the teacher awarded the infinity symbol - even better than full marks... and then... the teacher asked to buy it!  

Photo montage:

  • top left - Jo learning to solder during original project
  • middle - Jo holding completed original particle accelerator
  • bottom left - Jo explaining particle accelerator operations
  • right - Jo winning Editor's prize

There's something entertaining, incredible and humorous about a miniature particle accelerator model, and so... phase 2 began. After several years to refining and improving the design, it's now a kit to build at home or school!

Jo and I flew to Silicon Valley and showed the refined particle accelerator to 125,000 visitors at the Bay Area Maker Faire.  Jo explained the design to all ages, and won a ribbon from the co-founder of Maker Faires!

Firstly, there's the challenge of construction, which involves soldering, wiring, and assembling.  There's bucket loads of STEM included in the documentation.  Grab some friends and enjoy it!

Secondly, there's the testing.  Sure, anyone can stick the parts together, but does it actually work ?  Impress yourself, friends and family by showing you can actually get it going.... While we can't provide individual assistance, we're publishing a debugging guide to help you through.

Images from various experiments
Images from various experiments

Thirdly, there's mad experiments for you to stun the world with your STEM genius.  Example questions which could be run as experiments include:

Easy

  • How does ball speed vary with voltage ?
  • Quantify the friction between ball and tube surface by investigating the ball speed when rolling to a stop.  

Intermediate

  • How does the ball speed vary with pulse duration and timing ?
  • How much residual magnetism exists in the ball between electromagnets ?
  • What is the optical angle of internal reflection for the tube ?

Advanced

  • How does the speed and repeatability of the ball speed measurements vary with ball size ?
  • Set up the PPA as a pendulum clock - what changes are needed ?
  • Use your previous friction measurement to predict roll/slip dynamics and confirm experimentally.

Gold medal advanced

  • Will the unit operate if tipped vertically ? If so, can it be used to estimate the value of gravity ? Research gravity variations and develop an experiment and plan for PPA enthusiasts globally to submit their experimental data and map gravity variations.
  • Typically a permanent magnet near the tube would cause drag on the ball and reduce rotational speed, however there is one place a permanent magnet can be situated which increases rotational speed... answer from theory and demonstrate experimentally

The PPA is an open source kit, so why not develop your own experiments and be recognised by the community... who knows where that will lead ? 

A diagram showing the ball in the tube, used to derive how the ball's roll path changes with velocity
A diagram showing the ball in the tube, used to derive how the ball's roll path changes with velocity
  • Lovers of science and technology!
  • Schools, home schools and science camps that seek to inspire and challenge their students, and develop real STEM and communication skills
  • STEM professionals to re-engage with their community.  We'd love to see engineers and scientists buy this kit for their local high school and volunteer their time to mentor students constructing it... everyone wins!
  • Universities committed to engaging team projects

Reality check: this is an advanced technical kit, so at least one of the assemblers needs technical experience with electronics and technology.  This quick online quiz will help you work out if it's for you http://awesome.tech/ppa-readiness-quiz/

Due to the tools needed for construction, under 15 year-olds should be supervised by parents/teachers.

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A simple animation of the Personal Particle Accelerator
A simple animation of the Personal Particle Accelerator

Briefly:

A steel ball bearing rolls around a teflon-like tube, passing photo-interrupters.  An input board converts the analogue electronic signals to a digital pulse for the Arduino Uno compatible microcontroller.  The open-source Arduino sketch performs precision timing calculations to energize each electromagnet, starting and stopping at the right time.  The pulse attracts the ball bearing to the centre of a solenoid, but turns off in time to allow the ball to roll through to the next electromagnet.  The Arduino sketch also shows status and graphs on the PPA's screen.

Want to know more ?  The key components and their roles are:

  • Approx 1m of clear tubing with a 6.35mm (1/4") steel ball
  • 4 sets of dual IR photogates
  • An input circuit board, consisting of (a) schmitt triggers multiplexed through to an Arduino Uno compatible microcontroller and (b) driver hardware for a TFT screen.  The board can be daisy-chained to double the supported inputs!
  • An Arduino Uno compatible microcontroller.  The firmware supports externally triggered hardware interrupts.
  • An output board, consisting of demultiplexer, logic level MOSFETS and LED strobe drivers.  It can support up to 8 outputs, for example 6 electromagnets, and two general purpose.  The output board also includes a SMPS daughterboard and regulators to support the various power requirements.
  • 3 custom developed electromagnets that slip over the tube
Inspire Me size PPA (left) and Super Size PPA (right)
Inspire Me size PPA (left) and Super Size PPA (right)

Totally.  Here's a handy awesomeness comparison table with the LHC

Here's an example of awesome detail - check out how we've made the particle detector easy to assemble: 

The particle detector (v15), assembled and disassembled
The particle detector (v15), assembled and disassembled

Note the symmetry of the case, so no-one has to worry about top/bottom, left/right, and how snugly it holds the infra-red LEDs and phototransistors in position.  The two halves are firmly held together by simply rolling an o-ring over the sleek rounded corners.  Finally, the whole case pivots through the central hole, permitting different tube arrangements (eg. small diameter, large diameter) whilst maintaining the same inter-detector distance.  It took 15 versions of this item to get it just right!  Below are just a few of the previous attempts, salvaged from my large junk box.

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Above video shows the Super Size PPA in the dark... can you explain why sometimes the video appears to skip a strobe light ?

Special note: under no circumstances operate the PPA in a Delorean travelling at 88 mph.

All the parts needed to build the PPA model described in the Reward, except you'll need to provide:

  • Soldering iron and solder, multimeter, wire cutters/strippers
  • Some means of powering the kit with 12V-16V and at least 2A... you can use batteries, or a power supply.  A laboratory power supply is ideal, but simple wall-wort style power supplies (available from $5USD) can be used.  You may like to add in inline fuse if your power source doesn't have output protection for short circuits. 
  • A physical base around 400mm by 400mm to mount the project on.  Purchase a sheet of plywood, MDF or acrylic locally.

Recommended

  • A PC or Mac with a USB port for Arduino programming.  An internet connection is needed to download software.
  • An oscilloscope for debugging

What's not included in the rewards:

  • Import duties in your country are NOT included in the reward.  If your country charges import duty, you'll need to pay that directly to the appropriate authority before receiving the product.  There are no refunds if you decide not to pay the import duty.  The following link may be helpful in estimating duty  https://www.simplyduty.com/import-calculator/ 
  • The kit comes with virtually no spare parts, so if you accidentally damage any in the construction process, you'll need to purchase replacements from your electronics retailer or online.  Components are commonly available, but the custom electromagnets are only from awesome.tech at reasonable cost.
  • The second video refers to features such as operating the particle accelerator under vacuum, and a device to project the ball out of the tube.  Neither is included in the rewards, but we're strongly considering making them available as additional modules separately after this Kickstarter has been delivered.
  • Sorry, but to keep this kit affordable, we can't include individual support for issues encountered during assembly, debugging and operation.  We provide a community forum and promptly respond to common issues at our discretion.  This project is intended to build resilience and encourage backers to reach out to their local and online communities to develop their skills and seek assistance. 
Don't ever giveup... seek help till you get it working!
Don't ever giveup... seek help till you get it working!

Backers should know this is an advanced kit and they need to get hundreds of details right for this kit to work first go!  Fault finding is an essential technical skill, so getting the kit working is really just part of the project.  Once again, the readiness quiz provides you with some guidance http://awesome.tech/ppa-readiness-quiz/

The key is to reach out to members of your community who can help you.

Yes.  The kit has been designed for safety.  Key design aspects are:

  • The ball can't reach dangerous speeds, and is fully contained within the tube
  • The kit uses low-voltage electricity - you can run it from batteries if you like
  • The circuit board includes hard wired safety features that can't be disabled via software 

Users still need to exercise sensible judgement, such as:

  • Following the assembly and operation instructions carefully
  • Taking care with tools, especially hot soldering irons

There's up to four pieces of software needed for using this kit:

  • the standard Arduino development environment - can be downloaded from https://www.arduino.cc/
  • the Particle Accelerator sketch that's loaded onto the Arduino - there's a fair bit to this sketch, as it sets up hardware interrupts for pulse duration, processes incoming particle detections, displays the screen, accepts input from the throttle, and sends serial data to your PC... pretty much everything.
  • the standard Processing development environment - can be downloaded from https://processing.org/
  • the Processing sketch for PC connection - this software lives on your PC and accepts serial data from the Arduino to display experimental data in real time.

The following files will be available on our website as the physical kits are delivered

  • STL files for 3D printed parts
  • Sketchup design files for the 3D printed parts
  • Eagle schematic and pcb designs for all circuits
  • Arduino Sketch
  • Processing Sketch
  • Assembly instructions
  • Design notes 

Fulfilling this Kickstarter project inspires us to continue to design and provide innovative (and often crazy) gadgets and kits for makers and STEM enthusiasts.  Your support of this project means a lot to us!  There's so much more fun to be had... for example, here's a magnetic flux simulation for a specialised electromagnet to project the ball out of the loop... it's not working well enough to include in this Kickstarter, but your support at this stage helps keep us going!

Simulating the magnetic field and forces in future add-ons to the Particle Accelerator
Simulating the magnetic field and forces in future add-ons to the Particle Accelerator

Dan Collins - Data Scientist by day, Mad Scientist by night

Jo Collins - Student and maker

Paul de Groot - Engineer, creator of the Gerbil, Mini Gerbil and Super Gerbil controllers for equipment including laser cutters and CNC machines 

We're grateful to the help and assistance of talented designers, makers and engineers, including Sacha, Alister and Mike.  We're inspired by the various communities including Kickstarter, Hackaday, Robots N Dinosaurs and EEVblog.  We're grateful for great open source developments like Arduino and Processing.  Finally, this project couldn't have happened without the love and support from lots of awesome friends and family, number one being Dan's amazing partner, Lina.

Dan, Jo and Paul
Dan, Jo and Paul
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Risks and challenges

Customers need to understand that although the kit includes detailed instructions, it's still categorised as advanced. We've included links to a quiz so that people have realistic expectations of their own ability to complete it.

Design - The design has evolved over several years, and performed satisfactorily when operated for many hours. Many separate prototype units have worked satisfactorily. The kit has been independently assembled by a beta tester (13 year old child and parent).

Production:
Component availability - availability and pricing of components were verified prior to launch. However, supplier or shipping delays can occur for reasons beyond our control. For this reason, backers should understand that this kit shouldn't ordered for a particular deadline, such as a school assignment with a nearby due date.

Two types of potential part-count related errors are possible:
(a) where our supplier misses out on packing a component into a module bag, and that module bag is placed straight into the backer's kit.
(b) where Awesome.Tech doesn't place an entire module bag into the backer's kit.

Case (a) is managed by careful quality procedures on the part of our suppliers.
Case (b) will be the focus of our quality checks. Fortunately, there's under 15 module bags per reward.

Testing - we will construct a random sample of completed products to confirm all parts are included and performing to expectations.

Logistics - we'll utilise the lessons learned from our previous two Kickstarter projects (Gerbil and Super Gerbil) and leverage our existing logistics partner. The delivery timeline includes contingency time built in.

Support - including one-to-one support for this kit would make it prohibitively expensive, so backers need to ensure they have appropriate skill levels, and utilise community based support solutions.

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Support

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge AU$ 5 or more About US$ 4

    VIRTUAL HIGH FIVE

    Pledge $5 or more to show you like what we do. Get campaign updates, join our email newsletter list and access special pricing on future products.

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  2. Select this reward

    Pledge AU$ 25 or more About US$ 18

    SUPPORTER CREW

    Pledge $25 or more to show your support for our STEM adventures. Your name will appear on our PC software's Supporter Crew screen, and when we ship our rewards, you'll receive an exclusive email of Jo and Dan's selected journal entries documenting our adventures during the campaign and fulfilment - only the Supporter Crew will receive this. Great way to get the inside story and a few extra tips and tricks.

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    Pledge AU$ 270 or more About US$ 185

    ~$190USD - Saver (no 3d prints,Arduino)

    This basic kit gets you started with a 33cm diameter particle accelerator kit, including electronic components, PCB's, tube,throttle, wires, 3 electromagnets and ball bearing. You'll get electronic access to all documentation and experiments. You'll need to 3d print your own mechanical pieces and provide your own Arduino Uno. STL files for 3d printing, and the Arduino sketch will be available to you electronically.

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  4. Select this reward

    Pledge AU$ 325 or more About US$ 223

    ~$227USD - Inspire Me Kit

    This basic kit gets you started with a 33cm diameter version, including electronic components, PCB's, tube, Arduino Uno clone, throttle, wires, 3 electromagnets, ball bearing and 3D prints. Includes electronic access to all documentation, experiments and software.

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  5. Select this reward

    Pledge AU$ 526 or more About US$ 360

    ~$369USD - Super Size kit

    Similar to Inspire Me, but twice the size, with 6 electromagnets and associated electronics ! Great for demonstrations and maximum impression. Access to all documentation and experiments.
    Looks great in the dark!

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    13 backers
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  6. Select this reward

    Pledge AU$ 699 or more About US$ 478

    ~$489USD - "Inspire & Educate" a class

    Inspire, motivate and educate a whole class, with a Super Size particle accelerator kit and electronic access to all documentation, experiments and software. This reward is designed to impress upon students that THEY can enjoy and achieve in STEM. Plus:
    * Q&A skype call with Jo and Dan. Discuss science, the kit, careers etc for up to 20 minutes
    * Copies of Jo and Dan's original notebook of sketches and designs.
    * Jo and Dan's reading list for those with big dreams - science, adventure and motivation.

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  7. Select this reward

    Pledge AU$ 700 or more About US$ 479

    ~470USD - Pre-built Inspire Me

    Perfect as a 'ready to go' classroom demonstrator, this pre-built version works out of the box (33cm diameter). It includes a base, so simply connect 12V and swipe with a magnet to get the ball rolling!

    Guaranteed to excite the classroom. Brief teacher's talking notes included.

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  8. Reward no longer available

    Pledge AU$ 240 or more About US$ 164

    ~$168USD -EB Saver (no 3d parts,Arduino)

    - EarlyBird Saver -
    This basic kit gets you started with a 33cm diameter particle accelerator kit, including electronic components, PCB's, tube,throttle, wires, 3 electromagnets and ball bearing. You'll get electronic access to all documentation and experiments. You'll need to 3d print your own mechanical pieces and provide your own Arduino Uno. STL files for 3d printing, and the Arduino sketch will be available to you electronically.

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    Reward no longer available 4 backers
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  9. Reward no longer available

    Pledge AU$ 286 or more About US$ 196

    ~$199USD - EB Inspire Me Kit

    - Early Bird discount -
    This basic kit gets you started with a 33cm diameter version, including electronic components, PCB's, tube, Arduino Uno clone, throttle, wires, 3 electromagnets, ball bearing and 3D prints. Includes electronic access to all documentation, experiments and software.

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    Reward no longer available 24 backers
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  10. Reward no longer available

    Pledge AU$ 463 or more About US$ 317

    ~$324USD - EB Super Size kit

    - Early Bird Discount -
    Similar to Inspire Me, but twice the size, with 6 electromagnets and associated electronics ! Great for demonstrations and maximum impression. Access to all documentation and experiments.
    Looks great in the dark!

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    Reward no longer available 10 backers
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Funding period

- (30 days)