A device for making visible the paths of particles of ionizing radiation. The Wilson (expansion) cloud chamber consists of a container containing air and ethanol vapour, which is cooled suddenly by adiabatic expansion, causing the vapour to become supersaturated. The excess moisture in the vapour is then deposited in drops on the tracks of ions created by the passage of the ionizing radiation. The resulting row of droplets can be photographed. If the original moving particle was being deflected by electric or magnetic fields, the extent of the deflection provides information on its mass and charge. This device was invented in 1911 by C. T. R. Wilson.
A simpler version of this apparatus is the diffusion cloud chamber, developed by Cowan, Needels, and Nielsen in 1950, in which supersaturation is achieved by placing a row of felt strips soaked in a suitable alcohol at the top of the chamber. The lower part of the chamber is cooled by solid carbon dioxide. The vapour continuously diffuses downwards, and that in the centre (where it becomes supersaturated) is almost continuously sensitive to the presence of ions created by the radiation.