Editorial Feature

What is a Bubble Chamber?


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Article updated on 09/03/20 by Ben Pilkington


A bubble chamber is an instrument designed to detect charged particles through the tracks of bubbles present in a chamber consisting of a liquefied gas such as liquid hydrogen. It was invented by Donald Glaser in 1952.


A bubble chamber consists of a sealed cavity that is filled with a liquefied gas to reduce the inside pressure and a controlled device to maintain these gases in their liquid state.


Liquid hydrogen and helium are the most commonly used liquids in the bubble chambers. For applications requiring very dense liquids, a variety of organic compounds can also be used.

Working Principle

When the particles of liquid hydrogen enter the chamber, a piston immediately reduces the pressure inside its cavity, which in turn lowers the boiling point of a liquid, leaving the liquid heated at the appropriate temperature.


When a charged particle passes through this heated liquid, it creates tiny gas bubbles. The size of the bubbles increases as the chamber expands, so that the bubbles can be illuminated and photographed. Multiple cameras are mounted in the chamber to provide a three-dimensional record of the event.


Once the photographs are taken, the bubbles collapse upon recompressing the liquid. The bubble chamber is now ready for the next burst of particles.


Due to the constant application of a magnetic field, the charged particles travel along a curved path. The degree of curvature is dependent on the charge, speed, and mass of the particle.


The key benefits of a bubble chamber include:

  • It provides real three-dimensional images at a good spatial precision of 10 µm to 150 µm.
  • It is capable of storing holographic events, which can improve the resolution to 6 µm.
  • It can be subjected to a magnetic field for accurate detection of momentum.
  • The number of interactions inside the bubble chamber can be increased by a higher density of a liquid.
  • It ensures 4 p solid angle coverage of particles.


Some of the major drawbacks of a bubble chamber include:

  • Compared to newer techniques, it is inconveniently slow to operate due to the need for event reconstruction and film measurement.
  • The liquid within the chamber serves as both a target and detector, hence bubble chambers cannot be used with modern colliding-beam machines.


The bubble chamber is useful for analyzing high-energy particles. It is also used for measuring precisely rare decays with extremely short lifetimes

References and Further Reading


Cambridge Physics. The Bubble Chamber [Online] Available at: http://www.cambridgephysics.org/sweepnik/sweepnik1_1.htm (Accessed on 6 March 2020).


Sharma, S. (2008). Atomic and Nuclear Physics. [Online] Pearson Education. Available at: https://books.google.pl/books?id=iieIWtTo7iYC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Atomic+and+Nuclear+Physics&hl=pl&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiXu-CmooPoAhXjsaQKHcp8CPIQ6AEINTAB#v=onepage&q=Atomic%20and%20Nuclear%20Physics&f=false (Accessed on 6 March 2020).


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