11 Muster Mark's Quarks
IN 1911, A British scientist named C. T. R. Wilson was studying cloud formations by tramping regularly to the summit of Ben Nevis,
a famously damp Scottish mountain, when it occurred to him that there must be an easier way to study clouds.
Back in the Cavendish Lab in Cambridge he built an artificial cloud chamber,
a simple device in which he could cool and moisten the air, creating a reasonable model of a cloud in laboratory conditions.
The device worked very well, but had an additional, unexpected benefit.
When he accelerated an alpha particle through the chamber to seed his make-believe clouds,
it left a visible trail—like the contrails of a passing airliner.
He had just invented the particle detector.
It provided convincing evidence that subatomic particles did indeed exist.
Eventually two other Cavendish scientists invented a more powerful proton-beam device,
while in California Ernest Lawrence at Berkeley produced his famous and impressive cyclotron,
or atom smasher, as such devices were long excitingly known.
All of these contraptions worked—and indeed still work—on more or less the same principle,
the idea being to accelerate a proton or other charged particle to an extremely high speed along a track (sometimes circular, sometimes linear),
then bang it into another particle and see what flies off.
That's why they were called atom smashers.
It wasn't science at its subtlest, but it was generally effective.