Arduino Shield Update

Further news on the Open-source Beta5 Arduino shield:
I have the Radionova GPS chip working, and the signal-conditioning circuits on the shield seem to work well with the Geiger-Muller board.  A neat advantage of using the Radionova GPS module is it contains its own antenna, so if you’re near a window, no external antenna is required (though you can easily connect an antenna if it’s needed).  I’v…e tracked down the inevitable errors in the board layout, and I’ll soon be ready to order a second run of circuit boards.
One thing I’ve discovered is that hand-soldering the Radionova chips onto the boards doesn’t always work, and once you’re started there’s no turning back.  Stenciling solder paste works better, though doing it by hand is tricky, too.  Once we have boards made in quantity by a fab, all those problems will go away.
One of our volunteers, Mike of IQ Analog, is going to meet with the u-blox people who make the GPS chip to see if we can get their attention with a big order (1,000!) of the chips we really want.  Wish him well.  If that doesn’t work, we’ll just stay with the Radionova.

Beta 5

Here’s the latest on developing the next-generation (Beta5) ERGO instrument:
The Arduino shield is just about fully checked out.  The “physics” part of it that accepts signals from the Geiger counter board works, and there doesn’t seem to be any incompatibility with the Arduino.
We’ve been working on two different GPS solutions that can be part of the shield.  One is a plug-in board with a u-blox 6H GPS chip (the board costs $95), and that one works fine.  The other solution is a GPS module that is soldered directly to the shield board, and I finally have that working, too, though some details of antenna connections need to be worked out.  It looks like we can make an Arduino shield for less than $50 in parts that plugs onto a $50 Arduino Ethernet microcontroller to make a complete ERGO timestamping system.  The only thing to add is some kind of Geiger-counter board.
The next challenge is to develop software for the Arduino to process the data from the GPS and upload the event timestamps to our data server.

Introducing the ERGOnaut

ergonaut 1
Here’s the first test assembly for the ERGOnaut Deep-ocean Diver.  Today, we’re going to put the instrumentation in it and verify everything works.  We’re running down the winch and cable and starting to plan the first test outing.  Kevin h…ad a great idea:  why not replace one of the endplates with a piece of thick polycarbonate and mount a camera inside?
We’re planning to test at about 2,000 ft depth, then go to 8,000 feet at the “Miami Trench” about twenty miles offshore (check it out on Google Earth.

New Additions for Arduinos

We have two people now working on Arduinos for the ERGO Project: (Del Mar, CA) is working with the u-blox GPS and Arduinos in parallel with what Simon is doing in Miami.  He’s already written a Windows utility to talk to the u…-blox GPS.  You can see his blog here:
James Divine at CERN in Switzerland is organizing a “hack-a-thon” for the summer webfest at CERN to develop an Android-based smartphone ERGO using an Arduino interface.  His approach is to use the internal GPS in the smartphone for position and timing and either the internal camera or an external detector to pick up the cosmic rays.  James’ project wiki is here:

Summer Intern Update

Amazing things are being done in Miami by the ERGO summer interns:
* GPS sensor for Gen3 ERGO:  we’ve determined that the cheaper u-blox LEA-6H also does the “timestamping” function, and actually give more accurate times than the vaunted -6T.  The next experiment is to try the tiny Radionova gps module ($25 in quantity) which has a special u-blox -6 chip in it to see if it timestamps, too.  If so, that’s the solution for Gen3.
* GPS sensor for quick-and-dirty “Ergoduino”:  we’ve tried to get the data and 1-pulse-per-second outputs from Garmin gps “puck” receivers ($40-50) to work with Arduino, but we haven’t got it all together yet.  Using these off-the-shelf gps pucks is probably the best way for a DIYer to make an ERGO unit, but it won’t just be a “plug and play” with an Arduino.  There are some Arduino shields with u-blox chips, though, and that may be the “total-DIY” solution.
* Cloud Chamber for Classroom Demos:  the PASCO cloud chamber works very well for demonstrating cosmic rays, but it requires a bucket of ice water (and it costs $600).  Daniel is going to try two things:  making an upside-down cloud chamber (hot at bottom/cold at top) work, and making a “high-temp” cloud chamber that works without some kind of refrigeration.
* User Apps for Data Access:  Chris and James R are working on a computing algorithm to solve the “hyperbolic time-difference-of-arrival multilateration” problem in real time, so we can triangulate the position of lightning bolts (and, later, to determine the direction of arrival of cosmic-ray bursts).  They’re getting close.
* ERGO Database Server:  James R and Simon are working on ideas to make our database more secure and to give us ability to authorize or exclude ERGO units built by others.  This has been a need from the beginning, but now that we’re getting wider distribution we need to take care of this security gap.
* Radio Telemetry for Balloon Flight:  James S and Chris, with help from others, have the Zigbee-Pro telemetry system working; it should be good for a couple of miles.  They have been working on the UHF data radios from Maxon, but we haven’t figured out how to program them yet.  They look so nice and simple….
* Telemetry for Gulf-stream Drifter Buoy:  James S has ordered the SkyBitz satellite tracker and transponder, and we should have it in a few days to play with.  This unit mostly transmits position a few times per day, but it can also upload a little bit of data, so they’ll be developing an Arduino to “summarize” the ERGO cosmic-ray data for periodic upload.
* Inexpensive Muon Detectors:  Jeff has been playing with plastic scintillators, and it seems we can get a smartphone to receive “something” using the Radiation Counter app and the built-in camera, but we’re not sure what we’re detecting (noise? light leaks? cosmic rays?).  He and Simon are going to marry a plastic scintillator with the PIN diode photon-detector circuit they built to see if it detects muons.  If it does, that opens the door to a cheap actual muon detector for Gen3 ERGO.  Can’t wait to see if it works.
* Placing ERGO pixels:  Valentina and Sloane have been shipping out units to the sites they selected from grant applications.  We sent one to an engineer at CERN in Switzerland who wants to work on a Android-based smartphone-ERGO for a hack-a-thon next month at CERN.
*Building ERGO pixels:  Sloane and her team have completed nearly all the pixels that we have parts to build!  There is only one bare board left, and three in progress.  Once those are done, the Beta Phase (118 pixels total) will be done!  Hard to imagine.


Have you heard about the Arduino build-it-yourself movement?  ERGO students are creating an Arduino-based “pixel” that you’ll be able to build and program.  You’ll be able to create and share your own improvements and additions …to the ERGO project.

Want to know more about Arduino?  Here’s a new talk from TED Global by the founder of the Arduino movement.

If you have experience with Arduino (or want some) let us know.  You can help us create the next step in the ERGO Project.

ERGO Video – What if Kids Built the World’s Largest Telescope?

Want to learn what the entire ERGO projects is about in less than 4 minutes? Then check out our new video that gives a brief history of the project, how it works and what the long term goals are.

ERGO is enabling kids all around the world to turn the Earth into a giant telescope. By placing ‘pixels’ that detect cosmic rays in classrooms around the world, ERGO is turning the surface of the Earth into a giant, rotating telescope.

We are still looking for educators who would like to host a pixel. Grants are available. Fill out an application at

Produced by Coffee & Celluloid Productions

Cerro Paranal / VLT images courtesy /

Summer ERGO Projects

The ERGO interns have a lot planned for this summer. Here are some of their exciting projects:

  • Building twenty more ERGO pixels
  • Working on several methods for wireless telemetry various field experiments
  • Balloon launch – to measure cosmic rays in high altitudes
  • Gulf-stream ocean drifting buoy
  • Rocket-launch payload for Italy
  • Deep-sea sounding experiments
  • Investigation of link between cosmic rays and lightning
  • New ways for users to be able to access ERGO data
  • Design of a totally new Gen3 lower-cost ERGO pixel with touch-panel control and data display
  • Classroom experiments with cloud chambers and electroscopes
  • Investigation of the sensitivity of ERGO pixels to variations in temperature and pressure
  • Experiments with muon-specific low-cost detectors for possible inclusion in the Gen3 ERGO pixel.

That’s keeping us all pretty busy. There’s quite a crowd of enthusiastic interns here at the Syntheon lab. Thanks to Jeff, Valentina, James, Cesar, Daniel, Win, Lucas, Simon, Steven, Sloane, Christopher, Hunter, Jordi, Kenneth, James, and Cole!