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BHSU hosts international particle physics masterclass for area students and teachers

Several area high school students watch as Brianna Mount (far right), postdoctoral researcher in experimental nuclear and astrophysics at BHSU, demonstrates how electrons move in a magnetic field.
Several area high school students watch as Brianna Mount (far right), postdoctoral researcher in experimental nuclear and astrophysics at Black Hills State University, demonstrates how electrons move in a magnetic field during the recent International Hands on Particle Physics Masterclass. Teachers and students from five area high schools and one middle school took part in the full-day class that immersed them in the world of a particle physicist.

Black Hills State University and research institutes around the world opened their doors and invited high school students to become particle physicists for one day in March.

BHSU and approximately 130 universities, laboratories, and research institutes hosted International Hands on Particle Physics Masterclasses, offering high school teachers and their students the opportunity to analyze real data from the new, powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), at the CERN Laboratory near Geneva.

The BHSU masterclass featured hands-on equipment demonstrations; mentor presentations; data analysis activities; a videoconference with scientists from CERN and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and more than 8,000 students from across Europe, the United States, South Africa, Brazil, and Israel; and a tour of the Sanford Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. Participants also had “Lunch with a Physicist,” providing them the opportunity for face-to-face discussions with physicists from BHSU and the Sanford Lab.

Teachers and students from five South Dakota high schools and one South Dakota middle school took part in the BHSU masterclass. Participating teachers included: Brian Lowery, Aberdeen Central High School; Chad Ronish, Hill City High School; Rose Emanuel, Lead-Deadwood High School; LuAnn Lindskov, Timber Lake High School; John McEnelly, Chamberlain High School; and Mechelle Powers, Custer Middle School.

The BHSU masterclass was offered through the QuarkNet program, an educational program funded by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy to improve science education in high schools by establishing a nationwide network of science teachers. It is administered by Fermilab.

The BHSU QuarkNet Center was established in 2009. The first year Lowery and Ronish, the lead teachers for the program, studied nuclear and particle astrophysics at BHSU for eight weeks and worked side-by-side with physicists from BHSU and Sanford Lab in a number of experiments. They also attended a Boot Camp for QuarkNet teachers at Fermilab near Chicago. In summer 2010, four additional teachers – Emanuel, Lindskov, McEnelly, and Powers – joined the BHSU QuarkNet Center. They participated in two weeks of intense activities, including building two Cosmic Ray Muon Detectors (CRMDs) that are now being shared among the six QuarkNet teachers for use in their classrooms.

The basic idea of the International Hands on Particle Physics Masterclass was to let students work as much as possible like real scientists. In an authentic environment they are allowed to gain insight into the international organization of modern research; at the same time, they learn about the world of subatomic particles through easy-to-understand presentations by physicists who are involved in particle physics research.

“International Hands on Particle Physics Masterclasses are a unique opportunity for students to work elbow-to-elbow with scientists and get a taste of how modern research in physics works,” said Michael Kobel, physics professor from Technical University Dresden, who initiated this program within the International Particle Physics Outreach Group (IPPOG) six years ago.

Participants examine the products of collisions of elementary particles traveling at close to the speed of light, racing through a 27-kilometer-circumference accelerator. Via videoconference, they compare and discuss their findings with students in other countries – just like actual particle physicists do in international collaborations.

“This year students will face a very special challenge: They can work on the first real data from the LHC, collected just few months ago,” says Kobel. Three experiments – ATLAS, CMS, and ALICE – have made data available for educational use within the program.

International Hands on Particle Physics Masterclasses take place under the central coordination of Uta Bilow, Technical University Dresden, in close cooperation with the IPPOG and with support of the Helmholtz Alliance “Physics at the Terascale” and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. As part of the program, students receive a DVD with interactive material related to particle physics, translated into 17 languages with the help of IPPOG and support of the European Physical Society (EPS).

IPPOG is an independent committee of outreach representatives from states involved in the research at CERN and of the research laboratories CERN, and DESY. The committee’s goal is to make particle physics more accessible to the public.

Further information about the International Hands on Particle Physics Masterclasses can be found at www.physicsmasterclasses.org. See www.BHSU.edu/Physics or contact Dr. Kara Keeter, assistant professor of physics, at 642-6490 or Kara.Keeter@BHSU.edu for more information about the BHSU Physics Department and the QuarkNet Center at BHSU.

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