Acharge pickup detector was developed at the University of Colorado for use in classroom demonstrations and in the dust accelerator at the Institute for Modeling Plasma, Atmospheres and Cosmic Dust (IMPACT). The detector can be used in a physics classroom to help high school and introductory-level physics students connect electromagnetic phenomena with measurement techniques that are common to experimental physics and in electronics courses to demonstrate the use of a charge-sensitive amplifier (CSA). Construction of a similar detector would develop students’ basic machining and electronics skills, which are crucial in most undergraduate experimental physics opportunities. The detector is designed to nondestructively determine the velocity and charge of particles. The detector is compact (8.6 cm x 5.4 cm x 4.1 cm), simple, and lightweight. It is built with off-the-shelf components with simple machining, resulting in a low-cost (∼$100) detector that maintains the high sensitivity (0.2 fC) necessary for characterization of most hypervelocity dust particles, as well as a wide variety of other applications accessible to introductory-level physics students such as charged particles in a dust storm, pith balls, or charged raindrops. This paper focuses on both characterization of the detector using the accelerator at IMPACT and the basics of the undergraduate-level physics principles, electronics principles, mechanical design, and lab applications.

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