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Watch a GoPro Take a Ride Through an Electron Beam Irradiator

Shielded in lead and mounted on a conveyer cart, a GoPro braves the Mercury Plastic NeoBeam.

by Becky Ferreira
Aug 2 2017, 6:02pm

Image: Andrew Seltzman

GoPro cameras have been mounted on birds of prey, dropped into the ocean, and blasted on rockets to suborbital space. But if you want to see the view from a really extreme environment, check out this footage of a GoPro Session taking a ride through an industrial electron beam irradiator at full power (three megaelectronvolts).

This inside view of the Mercury Plastics NeoBeam facility, located in Ohio, was created by Andrew Seltzman, who is pursuing a PhD in plasma physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and posts videos of his experiments on his YouTube channel.

Over email, Seltzman told me he was inspired to conduct the experiment by a friend's research into "lichtenberg figures," also known as "captured lightning," which are plastic blocks decorated by the fallout of electron irradiation.

"Initially, I wanted to see what it looked like when the electron beam hit the plastic blocks and a cheap camera was sent through to see if it would survive," he said. "Over the last several years, more and more advanced equipment was sent through as I became more confident that the cameras would survive and was able to add more x-ray shielding."

Electron beams are pretty much exactly what they sound like—machines that shoot streams of high-velocity electrons at objects to irradiate them. There are many different reasons someone would want to do this. The facility in this video is normally used to cross-link polymers to create stronger plastic compounds, but electron beams are also employed to sterilize equipment or test out nanotech capabilities, among other applications.

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Seltzman shielded his GoPro in lead to ensure that the intense environment wouldn't fry it, and put it on a conveyer cart that transports objects to the machine so people don't have to carry them into the dangerous irradiation chamber. Once inside, the beam ominously approaches, illuminating some glowing foreground calcite samples as it hovers overhead.

When it reaches the GoPro, the camera is bombarded with a dose of electrons that would be lethal to a human, and the feed disintegrates to static for a few seconds. With that, the conveyer is on the move again, returning the camera to the safety of the facility floor.

GoPros have enabled videographers to capture all kinds of unusual natural places, but it's rare to see shots of the bizarre environments created by human technology, especially ones that are quite this deadly. For more, check out Seltzman's homepage, which is full of inventive tinkering, including footage of several other test runs through the irradiator.

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