T plus 7 days

September 13, 2017


Well, we did it.  The sculpture was successfully transported to Black Rock City, installed on the Playa and operated.


There were five days of RV driving to get out there with an eclipse viewing along the way.   When Kevin flew in to Salt Lake City, I picked him up at 4:30 PM and we drove 10 hours straight there into the sun.



It took Kevin and me two days to set up and only 1/2 day to disassemble at the end.   The system worked about 60% of the time.  That sounds terrible, and we can do better, but was about par compared to a number of technical installations.  The Playa is a difficult environment.  What went wrong:

1) 140F temps on the ground (107F in the shade) burned up several circuits including 3 sets of commercial LEDs and a power inverter.

2) Dust got into everything including sealed HV which the 10 kV loved to track across.  It was almost impossible to remove the dust.  I'm bringing back several pounds of the dust in my RV for show and tell despite best efforts to remove.   If anyone would like some just let me know.

3) The gas metering got screwed up by heat/dust so I used up the gas 1.5 days early.  We'd adjust it twice a day and then come back and it would still be too high due to differential expansion and contraction.

4) The sun was so bright you couldn't see arcs in daytime.  Maybe we should have stayed with the idea of a total enclosure.

5) The spark chambers seemed to develop a mind of their own, fading in and out of display.  Heat? Dust? Bad connections? Never was able to chase it down.

The mirrors, windows, and solar panels continually covered with dust we had to clean away at least once a day.

We weren't the only ones with burned out stuff at the end.  Many of the major funded projects had non-working parts, too.  This was a particularly hot year.

Despite all this we got a lot of compliments and it showed well.   I got interviewed live on the Playa radio station.  Before and after the Temple burn many folks came over to us because of an opportune location near a major work and a fire performance.  I'm pleased with the overall result but next year I paint everything dust color.  

Support from the Burning Man organization was excellent.  We have lots of great pictures;  I’ll include a few here but if you want more just send me an email and I’ll send you the link.  

Thanks to all for your support and encouragement and for making Cosmic Connection a reality.  We'll be thinking about next year...


Well things are pulling together.  I assembled everything together except the decorative shell.  I powered it up from the solar controller and deep draw battery and fired the system into dummy loads.  Everything worked fine.  With all the LED lighting added (for night safety) it drew 2.5 amps maximum.  Our battery has a capacity of 66 amp-hours so we should only draw it down 50% overnight.  The electrical noise from the pulses didn’t bother the LED controllers or the other circuitry.  The gas feed lines are installed and all the electronics are securely mounted in the pedestals.  I added some globes at the top of the pedestal light by LEDs.  They go through a random blinking programs.  It looks very spacey.  

The galaxy display was also finished.  It is a 4’ x 10’ galaxy arm only which will be supported between two 12’ flagpoles.  These lights help satisfy the need for safety lighting also.  Kevin built a circuit to turn them on at dusk.

We’ve gotten our application in for the Work Access Permits (early access to the site) and for fuel should we need it.   I am printing a poster, assembling tools, spare components and the like. Everything is a go with a few weeks to spare.   Thanks for all your help and encouragement and see you at the burn.


Quick Update: We have a location for our art support camp:  Breath and 9:45.  Come visit anytime!  

Also the vertical orientation works great:



June 27, 2017

Sorry for the long period of silence.   There has been much going on but progress was slow in dealing with a few nagging issues.   We have however gotten into a reasonable position for completion and installation of the artwork.  We I last reported I was hoping to have a long burn in run with the real chambers.  That didn’t happen due to issues with internal arcing and problems with pre-amplification of the photomultiplier signals.  Eventually I managed to solve the arcing and Kevin produced a great preamp which got things working.  Attached is a good picture of a cosmic ray track in the real chamber in horizontal orientation.   I had to artificially reduce the firing rate in this orientation.  In fact I often see a couple of tracks in a single firing.   In the vertical orientation the rate is reduced by a factor of about ten so no additional limit is required.  For the vertical orientation the system is good to go.   We are still considering whether to have the option for horizontal mounting.  It would require the construction of an additional pair of supplementary pillars, about two days’ work, and remain compatible with either mounting.

We also completed the mirror mounting which was the last major unit in the sculpture required.   We now have all the pieces produced for the primary design.  There are some small additions that will happen on site because they don’t travel well: trim, outer shell, mounting of an explanatory poster but they are relatively quick to do.

Finally there is the question of power.  Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor we acquired a 200 W solar panel system, controller, and deep draw battery.   We intend to mount these 50’ or so away from the main sculpture.  We need to construct a mounting and battery enclosure for this system and test it out.   Also remaining is mounting LED lights on the sculpture for safety at night.  I have the LEDs and will be preparing the mounting layout and design.   Transportation to the site is also under control: I purchased a 30 foot Winnebago with sufficient hauling capacity for 350 pounds of sculpture.   It only gets 10 miles to the gallon and has to travel twice across the country so any help with tax deductible contributions would be appreciated.  Push the “I’d like to help” button at the bottom of the page!

May 21, 2017

This week we assembled and tested one of the chambers.   The other is also ready for assembly.  The Silly Putty gas seal worked fine.  We hooked it up to the electronics with everything driven from the main power supply we found the scintillator signals needed a bit more amplification so Kevin built a preamplifier and now it works.  We also intend to improve the optical coupling to the photomultiplier tubes.  The overall count rate is fairly low because of the vertical geometry; about one ray track every 15 seconds.  When we are at Black Rock City elevation it should double the rate which will make it better.  We also have the option of going to a horizontal geometry but then folks won’t be able to stand between the detectors.

The ramp is also 95% complete with only minor fit up and painting to do.  I will be taking two weeks off then beginning in June we will assemble everything together for operational and lifetime tests, lighting and secondary decoration. 

We have now been approved for fiscal sponsorship by the Burning Man Project so we can also do some (tax deductible) fundraising through the link below.      

May 12, 2017

When I left off last time I was testing Plan B (a clamp) to get a good gas seal with O-rings on the chambers.   While it improved things somewhat, it still didn’t provide a reliable seal.  I therefore resorted to something everyone trusts:  dimethylsiloxane.  I was originally worried about its response under desert heat but I ran it up to 150 Farenheit and though it got softer it did fine.  It conforms to the space and is sticky so it tends to self-heal and fill holes.   I used it to seal the prototype unit and it didn’t suppress the ray tracks.  After buying 5 pounds of the stuff I used a baker’s cookie dough press to create a ¼” diameter eight-foot line for each O-ring and it sealed well the first time I tried.   It is also reusable which is convenient.  You probably are more familiar with it as Silly Putty.   I tested both chambers and verified they are leak tight.

With the help of Kevin we polished all 30 aluminum plates, a time-consuming and tedious job.  After a week of effort we are essentially done except for some minor touch-up in places.  I finished the mounting support structures for the chambers and did a test fitting of the plates.   With all this done we should be able to assemble at least one chamber and test it at voltage for cosmic ray detection next week.  Brian got us some new larger scintillator plates which better match our geometry.

I designed and ordered aluminum sheet for edge covering.  I also designed and constructed the piping frame to rigidly support all the sculpture elements.  Joe worked hard and managed to produce a 3-D rendering of the entire sculpture (see Figure) as well as full-size curve patterns for cutting the wood covering.  To give you an idea of the scale, the two pillars are as tall as a person.  We are now ready to start construction of the rest of the system.  We are also working on the logistics of getting helium gas tanks out to Black Rock City.

Cosmic Connection

We got contacted by Burning Man Art Support.  They have approved early access permits for Kevin and me so we can get in a couple of days early to assemble and test the system.  The art is going to be located on the Playa between the Temple and the Man.  That will get good foot traffic.  They also gave us two tickets and a vehicle pass!  <:{)    I have applied for fiscal sponsorship which will make donations to the project tax-deductable.  Stay tuned.

May 2, 2017

We have had a good two weeks making progress on the system. We finished up the HV mounting and connections inside the pedestals with the power load resistors. 

In addition we fabricated (3D printed) the holders for the photomultiplier tubes.  


We ordered and received 30 aluminum plates that will form the electrodes. I also finished installing all of the feedthroughs and gas connections on the chambers.

By far the biggest job, though, was gluing together the chambers, carefully finishing and smoothing the O-ring grooves, and then mounting the Lexan windows.   My initial approach to mount the windows was judged insufficiently robust so we went to Plan B (from outer space?).   That involved drilling five very straight 7” long holes in all of the outboard frames, counter-boring for capture nuts and inserting 10-24 all-thread.   I then added steel plate along the edges with 30 degree 3-D printed nylon washers, drilled matching holes in the window outer edges, and bolted it all together.   It almost works.  Because of the bow the Lexan it does not provide sufficiently uniform pressure on the O-ring so we have a slight gap in the middle which does not seal.   I have designed a clamp which should finish the job.  I will build and test it next week.   I want to get to a good seal and verify it leak tight so I can take on the time-consuming job of polishing the aluminum plates.  

April 19, 2017

We had a lot of progress this week.

John Heckman made some great patterns for me to use to construct the curved surfaces.  With those I was able to cut them all accurately to make pieces for the main spark chambers.  I was also able to do the fine milling to custom cut the the left handed and right handed mounts.  It is not glued yet but it fits tight enough to hold itself together.  (Pictures attached showing my semi-standard person for comparison.)  Carefully cutting the O-ring grooves is a major detail to be attempted next week as is fabricating the Lexan hermetic windows.

Also attached are pictures of all the electronics in their insulating containers and a trial mounting layout of that system in the two pedestals with the photomultipliers and sample scintillators on the side.

It all seems to fit (barely).

I fired the full energy system with all 14 capacitors and it didn't blow me or itself up <:{)

In addition, I registered the sculpture with the Burning Man organization to get placement on the Playa.

I also filed for a small Art Support Theme Camp "Cosmic Connection" so we can hopefully live not too far away from the installation.  Kevin has agreed to be responsible for environmental cleanup after the event is over.   I'm thinking Superfund Site.

With the help of a lot of folks we're continuing well.

- George

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