bubble chamber, device for detecting charged particles and other radiation by means of tracks of bubbles left in a chamber filled with liquid hydrogen or other liquefied gas. It was invented in 1952 by Donald Glaser. The bubble chamber consists essentially of a sealed chamber to be filled with a liquefied gas and constructed so that the pressure inside can be reduced quickly. The liquid is originally at a temperature just below its boiling point. When the pressure is reduced, the boiling point becomes lowered so that it is less than the temperature of the liquid, leaving the liquid superheated. When a charged particle passes through this superheated liquid, it leaves a trail of tiny gas bubbles that can be illuminated and photographed. The track of a charged particle can be used to identify the particle and to analyze complex events in which it may be involved. If a magnetic field is present, the tracks of the particles will be curved, positively charged particles curving in one direction and negatively charged particles curving in the opposite direction. The degree of curvature depends on the mass, speed, and charge of the particle. Neutral particles can be detected indirectly by applying various conservation laws to the events recorded in the bubble chamber or by observing their decay into pairs of oppositely charged particles. The bubble chamber is particularly useful for studying high-energy particles that would pass through a cloud chamber too quickly to leave a detailed enough track but which pass more slowly through the bubble chamber because of the greater density of the liquid. Liquid hydrogen and helium are commonly used in bubble chambers, with special equipment needed to maintain these gases in their liquid state (see low-temperature physics). For experiments requiring very dense liquids, a variety of organic compounds may be used. See elementary particles; particle accelerator; spark chamber.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.