The overall system is pretty simple and consists of a detector as well as an audible or visual response to an imbalance. There are essentially two forms of smoke detection that differ in how they detect smoke particles. One uses ionization and the other utilizes photoelectric technology. Rather than talk you through the details, please enjoy the video below that summarizes the the functionality of both types in a tasteful, yet ambiguous accent (feel free to stop watching at the bonus facts at 4:36): How detection works. Now, the details on how each individual detection system works are not super significant because the best (aka the most expensive) smoke detectors utilize both technologies. However, in case you skipped the video or are not a visual learner here’s what you need to know: Ionization: air is made conductive within a detection chamber via a small amount of radiation from a man made metal called Americium. Inside the chamber are two metallic plates with opposing charges (thanks to the voltage sent out by a battery one should change twice a year!). Alpha particles emitted by Americium collide and interact with Nitrogen and Oxygen molecules, splitting them into electrons and ions. The electrons travel to the positively charged top plate and the ions to the negatively charged bottom plate creating a current. When small smoke particles enter the detection chamber it causes a deviation from the constant current and this disruption causes the alarm to be triggered. Now, a photoelectric detector is much more short and sweet. The T shaped chamber contains a light that travels horizontally. When smoke enters the chamber, the large particles disrupt the light’s linear path and light is refracted and detected at the bottom photocell–signaling the alarm.
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