Cosmic Bitcasting is a collaboration between media artist Afroditi Psarra and experimental physicist Cécile Lapoire on creating a wearable cosmic ray detector. The first prototype was developed during a one-month residency at ETOPIA in Zaragoza, in the context of the exhibition REVERBERADAS.

Conceptual Axis

According to Nicholas Negroponte in his 1995 book “Being Digital”, the fundamental difference between the digital and the physical realm is that the former is composed of bits and the latter of atoms. In the information highway, the data we collect from the world of atoms takes the form of bits, and the fundamental characteristic of these bits is that they can be manipulated and expressed in a multitude of forms.

In our era of continuous technologic and scientific discoveries, where space probes are scouting the galaxy for earth-like planets and huge particle accelerators are simulating the birth of our universe, these bits of “cosmic” data are extremely important in order for humankind to grasp the invisible world that surrounds us in its everyday existence.

Cosmic Bitcasting emerges from the idea of connecting the human body with the cosmos by creating a wearable with embedded actuators (light, sound and vibration) that will provide sensory information on the invisible cosmic radiation that surrounds us. The project proposes the creation of an open-source, wearable detector, that will detect secondary muons generated by cosmic rays hitting the Earth’s atmosphere that pass through the human body.

The aim of this project is to create a hand-crafted technological artifact intersecting science and art, that could potentially create future mythologies/methodologies and will provide a fertile field of experimentation with DIY (Do It Yourself) and DIWO (Do It With Others) practices of particle physics. Furthermore, the idea of this project is to create an open source garment, that can be fabricated by anyone and thus contribute in the creation of an array of wearable detectors that will generate useful cosmic radiation data.

The project is open to many types of outcomes, since depending on the volume and safety measures of the actual detector it could translate in an audiovisual performance piece, in an hybrid object that combines the physical and digital realm, and in an artistic manual for DIY scientific research. The intention of the piece is to engage the public to experience the invisible cosmic radiation landscape and to create an archive of cosmic data that could contribute to the further research of the phenomenon of cosmic rays.

References

Before starting the residency we dedicated a long period of time in researching other projects (artistic and scientific) that deal with the idea of detecting cosmic rays using DIY detectors. Here is a list of really interested references:

Geiger-Müller Tubes
http://hardhack.org.au/
http://www.ergotelescope.org/
http://cosmicpi.org/
http://www.instructables.com/id/Networked-Cosmic-Ray-Detector-Feel-Radiation-on-yo/
http://wheresthechicken.org/slimboyfatboyslim/?p=499

Scintillating Fibers
http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00223131.2004.10875724
https://inldigitallibrary.inl.gov/sti/5532301.pdf
http://arxiv.org/pdf/physics/0501141.pdf
http://www.autexrj.com/cms/zalaczone_pliki/0314.pdf

Residency Documentation

Week I

During the first week of the residency we experimented with textile materials and worked with two Arduino compatible DIY radiation detector kits using GM tubes:
http://brohogan.blogspot.com.es/search/label/Geiger%20Counter
http://www.rhelectronics.net/store/radiation-detector-geiger-counter-diy-kit-second-edition.html
Based on these DIY geiger counters, as well as the open-source project of Juliana Cherston - a student at the MIT Medialab we designed our circuit schematic and fabricated the first prototype of the detector on neoprene fabric using wires and the couch stitching technique.

Week II

The second week at Etopia was dedicated at testing the first prototype and designing the wearable interface. During our tests with the oscilloscope we observed a sudden cut in the HV (high voltage) boost converter part of our circuit that was probably due to some of the components failing as we had replaced three 2N3904 transistors with an other NPN general purpose low-power amplifying transistors that could not convert our 3.3V input into the required 400-500V for the GM tubes to work.

Because the space that we were working didn't have the necessary safety measures in order to work with high voltage we decided to use one of the Geiger Counter kits for the garment. So we focused on creating the wearable circuit and designing the interactions. For our wearable circuit we used a Lilypad Arduino 328 microcontroller, High Flex 3981 7x1 fach Kupfer blank conductive thread from Karl Grimm, Pure Copper Polyester Taffeta Fabric by Less EMF, white smd LEDs, a coin cell vibration motor and an IRL3103 MOSFET with a 100 Ohm resistor to drive the motor - wearable circuit schematic to be published soon!

Week III

On the third week of the residency we redesigned our open-source cosmic ray detector and created a second prototype using neoprene as the base and the copper conductive fabric (with mounted adhesive on the back) for the circuit traces which we cut using a vinyl cutter.

After cutting we ironed the traces on the neoprene and we soldered all the components (this time having all the correct transistors).

After testing it a couple of times and tweaking the pot that controls the voltage that is send to the GM tubes we managed to have our detector working. In this case the detector works exactly as the Geiger Counter kits with the difference that now we are using two tubes (connected to D2 and D3 at the Arduino board). When printing the values if we manage to get "a synchronized hit" between the two tubes, we have 75% probability of having detected a muon (secondary particle produced by the collision of cosmic rays with the Earth's atmosphere).

It is important to point out that we did not manage to get a synchronized hit during our tests, but also the detector is designed to be mounted on the back of a garment and by having the GM tubes on top of the other would made it more likely to have a synchronized hit.

At the end of the week we had the opportunity to do some photo and video documentation through the lens of the very talented filmmaker Despina Economopoulou.

Week IV

On the last week of the residency we made a new addition to the wearable - we incorporated an XBee Series 2 antenna in order to be able to capture the detection data and save them locally to a computer in Etopia so that at the end of the Reverberadas exhibition - on September 2016 to upload them on a database, accessible by anyone interested in using them for research purposes, visualization or sonification.

From May-August 2016 Cosmic Bitcasting was exhibited at Etopia-Center for Art and Technology in Zaragoza as part of the exhibition REVERBERADAS, curated by Fermín Serrano and organized as part of the European Digital Art and Science Network.

Cosmic Bitcasting is currently presented at the Alchemists of Art and Science exhibition at the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria.