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Physics Professor helps install cosmic ray detector in Namibia

Posted on 26/09/2018

Professor Bobby Acharya, Department of Physics, has co-sponsored a project which saw a HiSPARC cosmic ray detector journey from the Netherlands in the summer of 2018, cross Africa by plane, arriving finally in Windhoek - where it has made its home in the University of Namibia.

Bobby is a member of the International Centre for Theoretical Physicist’s project Physics Without Frontiers and also sits on the International Organising Committee for the African School of Fundamental Physics and Applications, two of the organisations involved in the project.

Staff and students from King’s College London, the University of Sussex and the University of Namibia (UNAM) then worked together to assemble and commission the detector before data-taking could commence. Additional support for the project was provided by the Institute of Physics (IOP), Nikhef, and the NCRST.

Susana Nekwaya, MSc student at UNAM said ‘Working with the setting-up and assembly of the HiSPARC detector was a great opportunity and a great experience. During the assembling process we got to learn about the basic working principles of the detectors and this information can be used during explanations to other students and researchers that will be using the detectors.’


HiSPARC cosmic ray detectors are designed to be used by students to study extremely high energy cosmic rays. The detectors come in a pair and are mounted on a roof to detect muons that come from these cosmic rays. They offer students the opportunity to participate in real research, with the purpose of finding out more about these mysterious and rare particles. Undergraduate students at UNAM, who worked with the team to build these detectors, will use them for analysis, and the department will also use them for outreach events with local schools to engage young people with cosmic-ray physics. By placing the detectors 5m apart on the roof of the Physics department, a coincidence of signals from cosmic rays hitting the Earth’s atmosphere, registered in both detectors and producing enough muons will indicate that the signal stems from this cosmic ray and not from other sources of particles. Information about the cosmic ray can then be analysed.

‘On the one hand, cosmic rays form the major background for the gamma-ray measurements by H.E.S.S., whereas on the other hand, many of the H.E.S.S. observations are conducted to find the origin(s) of these highly energetic cosmic rays. Lots of the detection principles of the world-leading instrument H.E.S.S. and HiSPARC are the same: from cosmic ray induced air showers to the use of photomultiplier tubes to detect the dim light signals. It is such a great asset to be able to explain these principles to our students hands-on with an oncampus HiSPARC detector’ explained UNAM senior lecturer Michael Backes, who is also the head of the Namibian H.E.S.S. research group.


The HiSPARC is now operational and the students and staff have started to collect data. UNAM PhD student Kleopas Shiningayamwe said “I cannot wait to analyse data taken by the newly installed detector! Thanks to all people involved in bringing this wonderful detector to our university. We shall now be able to practically educate our students and high school learners around the country, and hopefully inspire them to involve themselves in research activities”.

A key comparison of the data will be to compare with detector data from the University Sussex who have partnered with UNAM and have detectors installed on their roof, as well. Thus, the students from both universities can compare results which may exhibit differences due to their geography, such as their altitude.


Bobby said: ‘This has been a really wonderful project! At points when we were having difficulties getting the detector components here to Windhoek I was worried that it might not come together. But seeing the students physically putting it together and getting ready for taking the first data has been an incredible experience. A great collaboration amongst several different institutes, I believe that this project will have a tremendous impact in the coming years.’

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