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BHSU brings national physics program to high school teachers and students

Brian Lowery, a physics teacher at Aberdeen Central High School, conducts research at Sanford Lab as a part of the inaugural Black Hills State University QuarkNet program. QuarkNet, a national research and study program, is designed to get high school teachers, and ultimately high school students, involved in particle physics research.

South Dakota high school students will have the rare opportunity to be involved in national physics research at the Sanford Lab thanks to an outreach program through Black Hills State University. This summer two high school physics teachers, one from Hill City and one from Aberdeen, participated in a national research and study program known as QuarkNet that is designed to get high school teachers, and ultimately high school students, involved in particle physics research.

QuarkNet is designed to bring particle physics and related topics into high school curriculum. Dr. Kara Keeter, physics professor at BHSU who was worked with QuarkNet previously, notes the program is administered by Fermi National Lab and includes universities across the nation. The Quarknet program aligns BHSU with several nationally recognized universities including Columbia, Boston, Norte Dame, and Rutgers.

The program included a one-week ‘boot camp’ at Fermilab, in Batavia, Ill., followed by a research experience at Sanford Lab and BHSU. The high school teachers worked Keeter and other faculty at BHSU on an improved technique for determining very low levels of contaminants in the noble gases needed for some of the detectors planned for Deep Undergroud Science and Engineering Labe (DUSEL).

Keeter notes that QuarkNet is an exciting program that works especially well with research opportunities at the Sanford lab, which is located just 17 miles from BHSU.

“This is the most exciting place to be in the world right now. QuarkNet gets high school teachers involved in Sanford Lab research. They work with physicists for the summer and take that experience back to their classrooms,” Keeter says. “It’s a way of transforming the lives of high school students by getting these students involved in research. These two teachers are taking back their enthusiasm that comes from participating in hands-on research and they will involve their high school students in analyzing the data in that research.”

Chad Ronish, a physics teacher at Hill City, and Brian Lowery, a physics teacher at Aberdeen Central High School, recently completed the inaugural QuarkNet program through BHSU. Next year 10 additional high school teachers will join the program as Ronisch and Lowery take a lead role in workshops and further research. They will share their experiences and work with the additional teachers to collect data at the mine and incorporate that research in their classrooms.

Ronish, a BHSU graduate, says the QuarkNet program provides an answer to a question he continues to hear from students and their parents questioning the importance of learning advanced science.

“Everyone always asks ‘When am I ever going to use this in my life’. QuarkNet allows us to show our students actual practical applications in a real life environment, not simulations. Our students will be involved with research in the lab and meet people who are using these skills,” Ronish says. “QuarkNet and the work going on at DUSEL lab will encourage students to go from high schools to universities to world renowned research opportunities right here at Sanford Lab. This will give students a reason to pursue science careers.”

Ronish noted that he and Lowery had many opportunities to go in the mine during the summer program. The two teachers worked on projects studying magnetic fields, radon production and trace gas analysis.

“We’ve been given a huge gift by getting the Sanford Lab here. Being able to use the facility and bringing South Dakota students into that environment shows them there is a future here – something beyond moving to California to get a job. The Sanford Lab give students the opportunity to go do something more with their education,” Ronish says.

Both teachers are looking forward to integrating their research into their high school curriculum. Ronish notes that he hopes to have his physics students in the lab within the first few weeks of school.

“This is a great opportunity to get students involved in research with people on the cutting edge of particle physics. That experience can’t be duplicated. They will be immersed in it, and that will hopefully encourage them to pursue the study of science in their future plans,” Ronish says.

 For QuarkNet details visit: http://quarknet.fnal.gov/

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