Dr.Kara Keeter, Black Hills State University assistant professor of physics, far right, talks with high school students during the recent International Hands on Particle Physics Masterclass at BHSU.

Local high school students joined thousands of students worldwide in working to unravel the mysteries of particle physics during the annual Black Hills State University QuarkNet Masterclasses.

BHSU and approximately 160 universities, laboratories and research institutes recently hosted International Hands on Particle Physics Masterclasses, offering high school teachers and their students the opportunity to analyze real data from the ATLAS experiment constructed at the powerful particle accelerator, Large Hadron Collider (LHC), at the CERN Laboratory near Geneva. Students analyzed data from ATLAS to rediscover the Z boson or search for the elusive Higgs boson in particle tracks.

Because of high interest in previous years, BHSU hosted two separate masterclass days this year, according to Dr. Kara Keeter, assistant professor of physics.

The BHSU masterclasses featured hands-on experiment demonstrations; mentor presentation; data analysis activities; and a videoconference with CERN scientists where they presented their results and had a chance to ask questions of the scientists. Participants also had lunch with BHSU faculty and researchers as well as with scientists from the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) where they had the opportunity for face-to-face discussions with physicists.

The BHSU masterclass is 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. The BHSU QuarkNet Center is now in its fifth year. Teachers and students from seven high schools took part in the BHSU masterclasses this month. Participating teachers included: Steve Gabriell, Spearfish High School; Rose Emanuel, Lead-Deadwood High School; Chad Ronish, Hill City High School; Mechelle Powers, Custer High School, LuAnn Lindskov, Timber Lake High School; Deidre Peck, Aberdeen Central High School; and Doug Scribner and Sharla Dowding, Newcastle High School in Wyoming.  

“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. Kobel initiated the program within the International Particle Physics Outreach Group (IPPOG) eight years ago.                          

The basic idea of the annual program is 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 while at the same time learning about the world of subatomic particles through easy-to-understand presentations by physicists who are involved in particle physics research. Participants examined the products of collisions of elementary particles traveling at close to the speed of light racing through a 27-kilometer-circumfrance accelerator. Via videoconference, they compared and discussed their findings with students in other countries – similar to what actual particle physicists do in international collaborations.

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).

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.