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Summer camp for physics teachers: Building particle detectors at Syracuse University

The federally funded QuarkNet Program links teachers with university researchers

Jun 15, 2012 | Article by: Judy Holmes

Steve Blusk works with student on the muon counter

Physicist Steven Blusk (right) demonstrates a muon scintillation counter for Emily Kraus, sophomore physics major. Muons are a byproduct of cosmic rays colliding with molecules in the upper atmosphere. Every minute, some 10,000 muons penetrate every square meter of the Earth's surface..


Editor’s Note: Members of the media are invited to attend one of the labs in which the teachers will be participating on Friday, June 29, 2012 from 2 to 2:30 p.m. For more information, contact Judy Holmes.

Ten high school physics teachers from Upstate New York will spend three weeks this summer at Syracuse University building cosmic ray counters, testing components of a neutrino detector, and learning about the latest results of experiments being conducted on CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE), the summer QuarkNet Program, hosted by the SU Experimental Particle Physics Group in the University’s in College of Arts and Sciences, provides professional development and on-going support for teachers by linking them with researchers in the field of particle physics. This is the second year of funding for the program at SU. Last year, two high school physics teachers traveled to CERN to work directly with SU researchers who are conducting experiments on the LHC.

SU physicists Steven Blusk and Mitchell Soderberg are coordinating the high-energy group’s QuarkNet program.  “The program helps teachers become more effective in conveying the science of elementary particle physics and the excitement of this field of research to their students,” Blusk says. “For example, the cosmic ray devices the teachers will build are instruments most schools do not have, but which can help students get excited about physics. The devices will be available for loan to local high schools during the academic year.”

The three-week program (June 25 to July 13) will include several lectures on particle physics, laboratory work, and a three-day, hands-on cosmic ray workshop presented by a QuarkNet representative, during which the teachers will build the cosmic ray devices. Other activities will include:

  • Using computer technology and scintillation counters to measure the lifetime of cosmic-ray muons that reach the Earth’s surface;
  • Testing components for a neutrino detector that the SU’s high-energy physics group is building for an upcoming experiment at the DOE’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois; and
  • Studying gamma rays using a scintillator counter and comparing their results with theoretical predictions.

Participants receive a $1,500 stipend and a $200 materials budget for take-home activities.

The experimental high-energy physics group in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences participates in the LHCb collaboration at CERN. LHCb is one of four particle detectors located on the LHC ring. The experiment is dedicated to searching for new types of fundamental forces in nature, especially those that would help explain the disappearance of antimatter in the universe. The group is led by Professor Sheldon Stone and includes professors Marina Artuso and Tomasz Skwarnicki, as well as Blusk and Soderberg. Over the past three years, their research has garnered more than $3.1 million in federal funding and has been continually funded by the NSF since the 1960s.

Participating teachers are:

  • Ranald Bleakley, Weedsport Junior-Senior High School (returning participant who spent last summer at CERN)
  • Josh Buchman, Fayetteville-Manlius High School (returning participant who spent last summer at CERN)
  • Cindy Lamphere, Dana West Jr-Sr High, Port Byron
  • John Lerner, Charles W. Baker High School, Baldwinsville
  • Mike Madden, Canandaigua Academy
  • Wanda Padula, Liverpool High School
  • Alexa Perry, Fayetteville-Manlius High School
  • Tanya Rutter, Holland Patent High School
  • Justin Shute, Fayetteville-Manlius High School
  • Ryan Sokol, Little Falls Senior High
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Contact Information

Judy Holmes
jlholmes@syr.edu
315-443-8085