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Posts Tagged ‘STEM’

This article appeared in Fermilab Today on Sept. 30, 2014.

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy students Nerione Agrawal (left) and Paul Nebres (right) work on the Muon g-2 experiment through the Student Inquiry and Research program. Muon g-2 scientist Brendan Kiburg (center) co-mentors the students. Photo: Fermilab

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy students Nerione Agrawal (left) and Paul Nebres (right) work on the Muon g-2 experiment through the Student Inquiry and Research program. Muon g-2 scientist Brendan Kiburg (center) co-mentors the students. Photo: Fermilab

As an eighth grader, Paul Nebres took part in a 2012 field trip to Fermilab. He learned about the laboratory’s exciting scientific experiments, said hello to a few bison and went home inspired.

Now a junior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora, Nebres is back at Fermilab, this time actively contributing to its scientific program. He’s been working on the Muon g-2 project since the summer, writing software that will help shape the magnetic field that guides muons around a 150-foot-circumference muon storage ring.

Nebres is one of 13 IMSA students at Fermilab. The high school students are part of the academy’s Student Inquiry and Research program, or SIR. Every Wednesday over the course of a school year, the students use these weekly Inquiry Days to work at the laboratory, putting their skills to work and learning new ones that advance their understanding in the STEM fields.

The program is a win for both the laboratory and the students, who work on DZero, MicroBooNE, MINERvA and electrical engineering projects, in addition to Muon g-2.

“You can throw challenging problems at these students, problems you really want solved, and then they contribute to an important part of the experiment,” said Muon g-2 scientist Brendan Kiburg, who co-mentors a group of four SIR students with scientists Brendan Casey and Tammy Walton. “Students can build on various aspects of the projects over time toward a science result and accumulate quite a nice portfolio.”

This year roughly 250 IMSA students are in the broader SIR program, conducting independent research projects at Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago and other Chicago-area institutions.

IMSA junior Nerione Agrawal, who started in the SIR program this month, uses her background in computing and engineering to simulate the potential materials that will be used to build Muon g-2 detectors.

“I’d been to Fermilab a couple of times before attending IMSA, and when I found out that you could do an SIR at Fermilab, I decided I wanted to do it,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed it so far. I’ve learned so much in three weeks alone.”

The opportunities for students at the laboratory extend beyond their particular projects.

“We had the summer undergraduate lecture series, so apart from doing background for the experiment, I learned what else is going on around Fermilab, too,” Nebres said. “I didn’t expect the amount of collaboration that goes on around here to be at the level that it is.”

In April, every SIR student will create a poster on his or her project and give a short talk at the annual IMSAloquium.

Kiburg encourages other researchers at the lab to advance their projects while nurturing young talent through SIR.

“This is an opportunity to let a creative person take the reins of a project, steward it to completion or to a point that you could pick up where they leave off and finish it,” he said. “There’s a real deliverable outcome. It’s inspiring.”

Leah Hesla

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This article appeared in Fermilab Today on Sept. 16, 2014.

Summer intern Sheri Lopez, here with son Dominic, pursues her love of physics as a student at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos. She spent this summer at Fermilab as a summer intern. Photo courtesy of Sheri Lopez

Summer intern Sheri Lopez, here with son Dominic, pursues her love of physics as a student at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos. She spent this summer at Fermilab as a summer intern. Photo courtesy of Sheri Lopez

Dominic is two. He is obsessed with “Despicable Me” and choo-choos. His mom Sheri Lopez is 29, obsessed with physics, and always wanted to be an astronaut.

But while Dominic’s future is full of possibilities, his mom’s options are narrower. Lopez is a single mother and a sophomore at the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos, where she is double majoring in physics and mechanical engineering. Her future is focused on providing for her son, and that plan recently included 10 weeks spent at Fermilab for a Summer Undergraduate Laboratories Internship (SULI).

“Being at Fermilab was beautiful, and it really made me realize how much I love physics,” Lopez said. “On the other end of the spectrum, it made me realize that I have to think of my future in a tangible way.”

Instead of being an astronaut, now she plans on building the next generation of particle detectors. Lopez is reaching that goal by coupling her love of physics with practical trade skills such as coding, which she picked up at Fermilab as part of her research developing new ways to visualize data for the MINERvA neutrino experiment.

“The main goal of it was to try to make the data that the MINERvA project was getting a lot easier to read and more presentable for a web-based format,” Lopez said. Interactive, user-friendly data may be one way to generate interest in particle physics from a more diverse audience. Lopez had no previous coding experience but quickly realized at Fermilab that it would allow her to make a bigger difference in the field.

Dominic, meanwhile, spent the summer with his grandparents in New Mexico. That was hard, Lopez said, but she received a lot of support from Internship Program Administrator Tanja Waltrip.

“I was determined to not let her miss this opportunity, which she worked so hard to acquire,” Waltrip said. Waltrip coordinates support services for interns like Lopez in 11 different programs hosted by Fermilab.

Less than 10 percent of applicants were accepted into Fermilab’s summer program. SULI is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, so many national labs host these internships, and applicants choose which labs to apply to.

“There was never a moment when anyone doubted or said I couldn’t do it,” Lopez said. Dominic doesn’t understand why his mom was gone this summer, but he made sure to give her the longest hug of her life when she came back. For her part, Lopez was happy to bring back a brighter future for her son.

Troy Rummler

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A version of this press release came out on on June 12, 2014.

Pi poles are part of a new exhibit for kids at Fermilab's Lederman Science Center, an educational center that houses resources for K-12 teachers and hosts science activities for students. Photo: Cindy Arnold

Pi poles are part of a new exhibit for kids at Fermilab’s Lederman Science Center, an educational center that houses resources for K-12 teachers and hosts science activities for students. Photo: Cindy Arnold

If you want to get children interested in the fundamentals of science, there’s nothing like letting them experience the phenomena first-hand. If you can make it fun at the same time, you have a formula for success.

That’s the thinking behind Fermilab’s in-progress outdoor physics exhibits, located near the Lederman Science Center. The Lederman Science Center is an educational center that houses science resources for K-12 teachers and hosts science activities for students. The Fermilab Education Office has just unveiled the latest exhibits, which allow kids to learn about basic principles of physics while playing in the sunshine.

The two new exhibits, called Wave Like a Particle and Swing Like Neutrinos, are combined into one newly built structure consisting of two poles shaped like the Greek letter Pi. Kids can make waves of various sizes by moving the rope that stretches between the two poles, thereby learning about wave propagation, one of the primary concepts of particle physics.

Children can also use the Swing Like Neutrinos portion of the exhibit – a pair of pendulums hanging from one of the Pi-shaped poles – to learn about coupled oscillations, a basic physics principle.

“Kids learn in different ways,” said Spencer Pasero of Fermilab’s Education Office. “The idea of the outdoor exhibits is to instill a love of learning into kids who respond to hands-on, fun activities.”

The Wave Like a Particle and Swing Like Neutrinos exhibits were built with funds through Fermilab Friends for Science Education, an Illinois not-for-profit organization supporting the Fermilab Education Office. Contributions were received from an anonymous donor and a grant from the Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley.

The new exhibits join the Run Like a Proton accelerator path, which opened in May 2013. Using this feature, kids can mimic protons and antiprotons as they race along Fermilab’s accelerator chain.

“We hope this series of exhibits will activate kids’ imaginations and that they immerse themselves in the physics we’ve been doing at Fermilab for decades,” Pasero said.

Fermilab is located 35 miles outside Chicago, Illnois. The Lederman Science Center is open to the public Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley is a non-profit philanthropic organization based in Aurora, Illinois that administers individual charitable funds from which grants and scholarships are distributed to benefit the citizens of the Greater Aurora Area, the TriCities and Kendall County Illinois. For more information, please see www.communityfoundationfrv.org.

Fermilab is America’s national laboratory for particle physics research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance, LLC. Visit Fermilab’s website at www.fnal.gov and follow us on Twitter at @FermilabToday.

The DOE Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

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Leon Lederman

The National Science Board announced Monday that it chose Leon Lederman as the 2012 recipient of the Vannevar Bush Award.

The award is given to people who are lifelong leaders in science and technology and who have made substantial contributions to the welfare of the nation.

While the general public might know him best for his book “The God Particle” about the search for the Higgs boson, Lederman has improved the lives of millions through his efforts in science, eduction and cultural outreach.

His early award-winning research in high-energy physics brought him into national science policy circles and in 1963 he proposed the idea that became the National Accelerator Laboratory, which was later renamed Fermilab. In 1977 Lederman led the team that discovered the bottom quark at Fermilab. The following year he was named director of the laboratory and his administration brought Fermilab into its position of scientific prominence by 1983 with the achievement of the then world’s most powerful superconducting accelerator, the Tevatron. In 1988 Lederman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

During his term as director, Lederman emphasized the importance of math and science education as outreach to the neighboring communities. He initiated the Saturday Morning Physics lectures, which have drawn thousands of students to the laboratory to meet and question physicists. He subsequently founded the Friends of Fermilab, which raises money for science education; the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy; and the Teacher’s Academy for Mathematics and Science, which provides in-service training and professional development for K-8 math and science teachers. Lederman is also one of the main proponents of the Physics First initiative to introduce physics earlier in the high school curriculum. His contributions to eduction have been memorialized at Fermilab with the naming of a hands-on K-12 science education center after him. The Leon Lederman Science Center is host to hundreds of field trips by schools and scout troops each year and supports Science Adventure classes during school breaks.

In about 1980, Lederman also made it a mission to include Mexican and Latin American researchers in high-energy physics experiments. Prior to that, the involvement by those countries was limited theoretical research not hands-on experimentation. Lederman subscribed to the philosophy of the more minds the better. He helped Hispanic scientists find a foothold in experimental programs and encouraged internships at Fermilab for Hispanic youth. The outreach has been successful and Fermilab now counts many Latin American countries as collaborators on science experiments. One example is Mexico, which  is Fermilab’s ninth most prolific partnering country in terms of collaboration results.

— Tona Kunz

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Editor’s note: Bob Peterson ends his month-long journey in the Atlantic Ocean with two cosmic ray muon detectors, collecting data for science and education programs that use similar detectors. Look for future Quantum Diaries posts explaining how the data gets used and how the two detectors get used on dry land. Hopefully, you’ll also get to see some of the photos from the journey, which Peterson couldn’t send from the ship.

Follow the 10-part journey here: The voyage begins, Turning the detector on, Other science on the sea, Particle detectors don’t like light, Enduring a branding for science A teaching moment on the ocean, Using ballons to study the sky to help IceCube and QuarkNet, Cosmic ray detector weathers sea mount survey and storms.

18 May 2011
R/V Polarstern
Latitude: 51-30.8 N
Longitude: 2-17.3 E
English Channel
Ship course 40° T
Ship velocity 10.3kt

18 May: Bob’s Last Polarstern Blog

France just showed up off the starboard rail. We’ve been in the soup since entering the English Channel, fog so thick you can’t see the toes in front of your feet. All the surrounding ships disappeared and the onboard birds are staying close. The only means of verifying location is the radar and the navigator’s chart. The ships had to trust the captains and the captains had to trust their charts. Scary for the ships; they have no eyes. But, there is France. We will be off Calais in an hour and half. Hope the visibility holds.

This will be the last blog installment as the radio officer shuts down the mail server tomorrow at 1200 ship time; not 1201.

There is much activity onboard as data-taking has stopped and instruments are finding their way to packing cases. The experiments I’ve talked about in these posts are finished: no more LIDAR, no more microwave cloud measurements, no more deep-echo sounding,. But the cosmic ray muon detector keeps clicking over. I’m going to take data all night; shut down and pack up tomorrow morning.

Arrival at Bremerhaven will occur at 0600 Friday morning assuming the pilot is on time (remember Las Palmas?). Quick good byes as the German scientists want to get home. The crew waits for their “pay-off” as in the old days before they depart the ship. Then the Polarstern goes to dry dock for “haul-out” and maintenance. It will have three weeks out of the water and then departure for the Arctic. Much of the same crew will sail again including Max and Klaus in the weather office.

It’s been a truly amazing trip for me. I recommend a new book, “Atlantic” by Winchester. It captures some of the scale of this body of water. The book covers history, oceanography, geology, sea battles, survival stories and sea life. I started reading it in Cape Town; finished it off of Gibraltar It’s a
worthwhile read.

Ship’s bell just rang for dinner. Thanks to all for reading and sending me mail. It was nice to feel the connection from friends, family and colleagues when so far away.

— Bob Peterson

Glossary

*Starboard: The right side of the ship.

*Soup: Fog

*Pay-off: After a ship’s arrival in port, the captain would meet the crew (who had spent the night on the town) the next morning to pay the crew in cash or gold.

*Haul-out: In the old days, a ship would be pulled out of the water using a railway and cradle; now ships use dry-docks, which pump the water out of the basin containing the ship.

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Fermilab’s Linda Purcell-Taylor explains what she does in her job to a group of girls from Sawyer Elementary School in Chicago. Credit: Christine Herman

This article first appeared in Fermilab Today May 31.

In a large, open space in the northwest wing of Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, scientists and engineers staffed tables that lined the room. With their science demos in place and smiles on their faces, they welcomed more than 1,000 people to the museum’s Spring into Science career expo on Saturday, May 21.

“The event was a huge success,” said Lizza Igoe, education coordinator at the museum and event organizer, in an email to the volunteers. “[Everyone] thoroughly enjoyed learning about different career opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and medicine, as well as getting a glimpse into the working world.”

Fermilab’s Mike Albrow, a particle physicist, and Linda Purcell-Taylor, a senior technician, volunteered at the event.

Purcell-Taylor placed a secondary emission monitor, also known as a beam profile monitor, on the Fermilab table.

The round, metallic device has a 4-inch diameter hole through the middle, which allows the particle beam to pass through. At the push of a button, a wire mesh material moves into the pathway of the particle beam. As particles pass through the mesh, they interact with the wires and create electrical signals that are collected and processed by a computer.

“This is part of a system we use to see the shape of the beam and where it is going through the beamline so that we can adjust magnets to steer it,” Purcell-Taylor explained to a group of girls from Sawyer Elementary School in Chicago, who crowded around the table to take a look.

One of the girls, Giselle Castañeda, a sixth grader, said she is part of the science club at her school and wants to be a teacher when she grows up. Castañeda and her friends jotted down notes as Purcell-Taylor talked about her job.

“I like that every day I’m learning something new about science,” Purcell-Taylor said to the girls.

Albrow also captured the students’ attention with a real-time cosmic ray detector. The device, which is about the size of a narrow shoe box and is filled with plastic particle-detecting fibers, was connected to a camera that transmitted the image to his laptop.

Fermilab’s Mike Albrow explains how a cosmic detector works to Israel Vargas and his son, Kai Vargas, a third grader from Daniel Zizumbo Charter School in Chicago. Credit: Christine Herman
“Their eyes lit up and they stared at that scintillating fiber bundle,” Albrow said. “When a cosmic ray came through we’d all say, ‘Wow!’”

Kai Vargas, an enthusiastic third grader from Daniel Zizumbo Charter School in Chicago, visited the Fermilab table with his dad, Israel Vargas.

When stars trillions of miles away explode, they shoot off cosmic rays that travel thousands of years before they reach the Earth, Albrow explained to them.

Israel said he brought Kai to the event to help further his interest in science.

Fermilab’s Mike Albrow explains how a cosmic detector works to Israel Vargas and his son, Kai Vargas, a third grader from Daniel Zizumbo Charter School in Chicago. Credit: Christine Herman

“I love science, it’s my favorite subject,” Kai Vargas said. When asked what kind of science he liked best, he said excitedly, “All science. I love all of it.”

Albrow is a firm believer in making science fun for kids and said it is extremely rewarding for the scientists who get involved.

“We get so tied up talking complicated physics to our peers, so it is very refreshing to go back to the simple things that got most of us interested in it when we were kids,” Albrow said.

For Purcell-Taylor, science outreach events like these are opportunities to encourage children to go for science.

“It is only takes a little bit of time to make a positive impression that can last a lifetime,” she said.

— Christine Herman

Related information:

*Fermilab fills science fair void

*Inaugural U.S. Science and Engineering Festival draws more than 1 million people

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A teaching moment on the sea

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Cosmic rays collide with the Earth's atmosphere and rain down secondary particles.

Editor’s note: Bob’s most excellent particle detector adventure, part 6.

 Bob Peterson continues to travel with his QuarkNet particle detector around the edge of Africa recording remnants of cosmic rays. This offers a chance to study how cosmic ray recordings differ on land and sea and at different latitudes. The data will be accessible to high school students and teachers in several countries who use similar detectors to learn about particle physics.  

Read his previous posts here: The voyage begins, Turning the detector on, Other science on the sea, Particle detectors don’t like light, Enduring a branding for science

8 May 2011
R/V Polarstern
Latitude: 23-13.3 N
Longitude: 20-29.1 W
off the coast of Mauritania
Ship course 21° T
Ship velocity 6.1 knots

8 May:
The ship, scientists, officers and crew have settled into routines. All have learned where things are located, the best time to get tasks done and whom to ask for help. Unfortunately, no one can help the cosmic ray muon detector.

The photo multiplier tube connected to channel four finally gave up the ghost, and I had to put it to sleep. I unplugged it.
The severed wires refused to stay connected even with jury-rigged foam, tape and flotsam. Channel four would record for a short while then would drop off line and the data flow would stop. So, data-taking will continue with three channels and three-fold coincidence. That should hold through the end of the voyage.

Part of the ship’s routine includes evening science talks given by researchers on board. I was the first and surprised everyone. Instead of talking about cosmic-ray science, I spoke about QuarkNet and how it supports authentic learning by helping students study cosmic rays in the classroom. After all, I am a teacher.

One example of how a cosmic ray detector can transfer data to a computer and upload to the e-Lab. Credit: Fermilab

The room full of scientists resonated with the QuarkNet approach, which provides support for particle physicists at universities and national laboratories to form long-term collaborations with local high school teachers. High school students analysis real-time cosmic ray muon data and share their results online with students around the globe in e-Labs, just like today’s international science collaborations.

My onboard companions understood immediately the value of giving teachers and students genuine research experiences Students build their detectors from scratch just as physicists do. You won’t find the step-by-step directions you find on furniture or toys such as “part A goes in slot A.” Students learn problem-solving skills they’ll use in everyday life as they figure out how to put the detector together, finding the best location in the high school for it and forging partnerships with groups at school. One group had to work with its IT department to figure out how to get approval to put a hole in a wall so that they could get their antenna on the south side of the building where the GPS satellite signal was best for connecting to the data acquisition system. It takes ingenuity to make it work. But that’s what makes the program so great.

It was an easy talk to give as I have beena happy warrior for QuarkNet since joining the program In 2004. From colleagues Tom Jordan and Marge Bardeen, I quickly learned the worth of letting QuarkNet users “ask their own questions” and design their research approaches. It is nice to offer such a rich project as cosmic-ray research because there remain many open-ended questions for teachers and students to chew on.

Teachers in Idaho transport a cosmic ray detector to various altitudes on a mountain to compare the number of particle interactions. Courtesy of Bob Peterson

Part of my purpose onboard the R/V Polarstern is to gather a unique data set to add to the Cosmic Ray e-Lab where students can analyze data. This data will join data contributed from IceCube at the South Pole and other data from the Polarstern on previous trips.  The e-Lab offers friendly data-analysis tools, guides teachers and students to develop quality research questions and encourages them to support conclusions with evidence. We modeled the approach on the professional life of scientists, especially particle physicists. Students upload data from their classroom cosmic ray muon detector. The e-Lab provides analysis tools and lowers the threshold to understanding the physics embedded in the data. The hardware and e-Lab couple tightly together as a complete science education experience.

Right now, over 200 cosmic ray muon detectors s have been distributed in the United States; another 100 international. You can find QuarkNet participants in: Brazil, Canada, China, France, The Republic of Georgia, Great Britain, India, Mexico, Japan, Poland, Puerto Rico, Russia, Singapore and Thailand.

All this data offer students plenty of research options. For example, during the last solar maximum QuarkNet had no cosmic ray detectors in classrooms. With detectors now in place, users are ready to examine the effect of solar storms on cosmic-ray flux. Many other questions are possible, such as looking for cosmic-ray shower coincidence or how well a detector is performing.

The Polarstern seems to be ahead of schedule for we have slowed down and changed course headed for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. We arrive on 10 May for a quick stay to pick up additional science crew; no shore leave allowed. Too bad.

The sea state has continued “on the nose”. With the northeast trade winds of 15-18 knots and a forward speed of 12 knots, that makes it 30 knots over the deck. That’s hard to stand with the ship’s motion. The Atlantic remains immense in my view. 19 days at sea and I saw my first jet contrail today. I have yet to see another ship. They promise there will be plenty as we approach the English Channel.

Glossary:
*Flotsam: the wreckage of a ship or its cargo found floating on the sea.

*Coincidences: The cosmic ray muon detector looks for what we call coincidences, two signals, one from each photo multiplier tubes, received within a short time. These are reported to the computer; all other signals are vetoed as likely background noise from the photo multiplier tubes

*Jet contrail: The condensation trail left behind jet aircraft.

Related information:

A blog written by Wisconsin university students on the first data taking boat trip.

Read how they explained their trip while visiting Washington DC.

—  Bob Peterson

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Editor’s note: Bob’s most excellent particle detector adventure, part 5.

 Bob Peterson continues to travel with his QuarkNet particle detector around the edge of Africa recording remnants of cosmic rays. This offers a chance to study how cosmic ray recordings differ on land and sea and at different latitudes. The data will be accessible to high school students and teachers in several countries who use similar detectors to learn about particle physics.  

Read his previous posts here: The voyage begins, Turning the detector on, Other science on the sea, Particle detectors don’t like light

4 May 2011
R/V Polarstern
Latitude: 9-47.1 N
Longitude: 19-46.2 W
off the coast of Guinea
Ship course 320 ° T
Ship velocity 10.1 knots

4 May 2011:
Two days ago, the R/V Polarstern stopped mid-ocean at latitude: 00-00.053S, longitude: 11-39.259W.

By my reckoning, that’s 318 feet south of that east-west line “painted” in the water. Guilty parties were forced into very little rubber rafts and pointed in obscure directions and told to “cross the line”. Only one actually knew which way to go. After circular paddling, which amounted to three times the distance required to cross the line, those guilty of being equator-crossing newbies were initiated as shellbacks .

And what an initiation it was.

Water color painting Lord Neptune by Shakti Prasad Srichandan.

Neptune, lord of the sea, and his court rose up out of the Atlantic for the ritual baptism of those who had violated his domain. A trial was held and renaming of the pollywogs was required. Much fun and antics was had by the entire crew as they put on a real show of cruel and dastardly deeds. I could almost hear them cackling like the pirates of days past: “Arrrghhh! Avast ye maties!”

Bathing in stinky slop ensued, ceremonial memorizing of creeds was demanded and kissing of the feet of Neptune’s wives was enjoyed. Men in drag wearing clown shoes slathered in mustard and horseradish sauce stood in for Neptune’s wives. Lovely. I was also assisted by large, burly men with tattoos into a baptismal font made from a large fish basket. Four times I went in it; I must have been extra sinful. Each dunking got nastier as more people were “baptized”.

Finally they branded our stomachs with Neptune’s trident. This was a bit scary because they covered our faces with hoods execution-style and we could hear the metal trident heating in a charcoal grill and sizzling as it pressed onto flesh. Thankfully, when it came to my turn I found out the sizzle was the trident branding a raw piece of meat that then got slapped onto my stomach.  The crew got a great laugh out of our initiation.

We earned certificates for our ceremonial passage and a feast at sunset. Neptune felt the ceremony was befitting and left without taking the ship with him. So I am now the shellback known as Cosmic-Ray Rider, and I have pictures and a certificate to prove it.

Those will have to do because I skipped one of the most permanent parts of the ceremony. While I appreciate all the suggestions of earring types from friends and family, I decided to forego that little ritual. It’s the burly men that punch the hole, and they’re none too delicate.

So, the cosmic ray muon detector gave me my shellback name, but it’s also been my source of grief. Sometimes delicate instruments refuse to cooperate. For me, the trouble has been channel four and a scintillator counter that drops off line. Of course, it’s the one on the bottom of the stack, and it chooses to act up in the middle of the night. Several times in the morning I find it asleep, and that no data was taken during the night. Suspecting a light leak, I rewrapped it twice. Nope; that’s not it. Then I discover a flakey wire into the photo multiplier tube. There must be a short inside that photo multiplier tube. To compensate, I have lowered the coincidence to 3-fold from four so that a particle signal recorded in the three working sections of the detector will count as cosmic ray remnant event. Now, I will at least get some data. A replacement wire is some 8,000 miles away at Fermilab and the parts you can find along our route are pretty wet wheeling, as they say.

Bob Peterson holds part of the electronics for the cosmic ray muon detector. Credit: Tona Kunz

After many days in the southeast trade winds, we pushed through the doldrums, an area of still air near the equator that seems to rise rather than blow, and into the northeast trade winds. Other than the stop for the equator crossing, our course and speed have been relentless: 320 ° T, 11 knots; however, the following winds and swell have now turned on the nose and have become quite lumpy. Max, the weather guesser, promises it will get worse. In several days we make a turn to the north and a planned stop at the Canary Islands to pick more scientists.

Glossary:
*Pollywog: Some no good, inexperienced mariner who has never crossed the equator.

*Shellback: The opposite of a pollywog.

*Coincidences: The cosmic ray muon detector looks for what we call coincidences, two signals, one from each photo multiplier tubes, received within a short time. These are reported to the computer; all other signals are vetoed as likely background noise from the photo multiplier tubes.

— Bob Peterson

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 Editor’s note:
Bob’s most excellent particle detector adventure, part 4.

 Bob Peterson continues to travel with his QuarkNet particle detector around the edge of Africa recording remnants of cosmic rays. This offers a chance to study how cosmic ray recordings differ on land and sea and at different latitudes. The data will be accessible to high school students and teachers in several countries who use similar detectors to learn about particle physics.  

Read his previous posts here:
*The voyage begins

*Turning the detector on

*Other science on the sea

 27 April 2011
R/V Polarstern
Latitude: 11-15.6 S
Longitude: 2-13.2 W
Ship velocity 10.9 knots
Ship course 322.9 ° T

Progressively, over the last three days, the data from the cosmic ray muon detector has become more problematic.

How a QuarkNet detector reads a cosmic ray remenant. Credit: Fermilab/QuarkNet

Here’s how our system works. Plastic scintillator is covered with aluminum foil and then with black paper and tape to make it “light-tight.” Any light leaking in will incorrectly be recorded as a particle interaction and make the data unreliable. A photo multiplier tube, or PMT, is attached to the wrapped scintillator; this assembly is called a counter. Up to four of these can be connected to the data acquisition card. The data acquisition system, or DAQ, sends data to the computer via the USB port. When a cosmic ray muon passes through the scintillator it causes a few photons to be emitted in the scintillator material. These are picked up by the photo multiplier tube, converted to an electrical pulse and amplified. Each photo multiplier tube sends its signal to the data acquisition system.

It is not working like that today.

One of the counter channels has become variable; first rising in counts and then falling. We look for what we call coincidences, two signals, one from each photo multiplier tube, received within a short time. These are reported to the computer; all other signals are vetoed as likely background noise from the photo multiplier tubes

I have been seeing far fewer coincidences than the data acquisition system should be recording. This has affected the overall data flow, causing it sometimes to fall to zero.

Looking back over the several days, I seemed to notice a day/night dependency. So, I decided to disassemble the counter “stack” and see if there was a possible light leak in the fourth counter; of course, that was the bottom counter. Sure enough, the bottom counter had been poorly assembled and much of the wrapping tape had let go and opened several “seams”. There were not major gaps, but they were large enough to let light leak into the photo multiplier tubes. I’m glad I found this out. I inspected all the counters and found a few other suspect areas.

QuarkNet cosmic ray muon detector tool kit. Credit: Fermilab

With the gaps addressed, the detector is back on the air and the data looks healthy.

Meanwhile, the Polarstern progresses north and west. The weather is now warm and sticky with humidity. We approach the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone where the global circulation cells collide causing an upwelling of air. Showers can be expected in a day or two.

Also, expected is the equator. When we cross over, the “pollywogs”, or people who have never crossed the equator, will be “baptized” by Neptune. I’ve been warned to wear old clothes and be prepared to throw them away. I suppose I really can’t be considered a sailor ’til I submit.

Wonder if I should get an earring? What do you think?

— Bob Peterson

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A Naperville North High School student gives a hover craft a start during the Fermilab Open House. Credit: Fermilab/Cindy Arnold

Darwin Smith gathered a group of students to drive four hours to exhibit physics concepts science-fair style at Fermilab.

The Hamilton high school teacher got no complaints from these seniors even though they were giving up a beautiful Sunday and many had only had a few hours of sleep. The draw was the rare chance to show their love for science and see how their skills stacked up to peers from big city schools.

Judging from the consistent crowds of children and adults that pressed up against their exhibits, this rural school stacked up just fine. During the five hours of the Fermilab Open House Feb. 27, the Hamilton students along with peers from other schools rarely had time to catch their breaths.

Fermilab’s first venture into showcasing student-designed, hands-on exhibits at its Open House delighted visitors and offered a chance for  students to flex their creative, independent study and critical thinking skills.

“They didn’t just take equipment we have and show it,” said Katherine Sequino, the science department chair at Naperville Central High School.  “They built this from scratch, they had to brain storm, they had to problem solve and they have to be able to explain it to people of all ages.”

Politicians and education experts recently have touted the need for such critical thinking skills to keep the U.S. economy strong, build a tech-savvy workforce and a science-savvy voting public.  Yet, the traditional germination grounds for these skills have dwindled amidst school budget cuts, volunteer shortages and limited time in the academic day.

Many of the 12 student teams from Chicago, Hamilton, Glenview, Naperville, Skokie and Orland Park that were manning exhibits at Fermilab said that they lacked chances to partake in the science fair right of passage or similar events. That is a national issues according to a recent New York Times article.

“This is the only place we’ll get to do this,” said Connor McCarthy, a senior at Naperville North High School. “It is great to see

Naperville Central High School students demonstrate how a laser works. Credit:Fermilab/ Cindy Arnold

the reactions of the kids, especially the smaller kids. It is great to see their faces light up when they ride it. It makes all the work worthwhile.”

The physics club McCarthy belongs to created a hover craft using plywood and a leaf blower that sent children sliding across the lobby like air-hockey pucks.

“We knew that would differentiate us from the other experiments,” he said.

 Not only did the students have to come up with a physics concept such as magnetism, force and motion and light that they could illustrate and explain to all age groups, but they also had to tap marketing magic to draw and keep a crowd of fickle preteens. The Naperville Central High School Girl Engineers Mathematicians Scientists, or GEMS, club built its experiment around lasers; Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago gave candy as prized to its static electricity race.

Fermilab Education Office Director Marge Bardeen saw teens in Spain undertaking similar exhibits at public events and brought the idea home to Fermilab.  Local schools were quick to jump at the chance.

Students from Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago use ballons and Curious George to explain static electricity. Credit: Fermilab/Cindy Arnold

“We thought it would be good for the young kids who come to the open house to have role models closer to their age and to see that through school activities they can be well on their way to becoming scientists,” said Spencer Pasero, Fermilab education office program leader.

Michelle Kwon, a fourth-grader from Glen Ellyn, said it was great to see girls explaining how lasers work because she’s heard the stereotype that girls can’t do well at math and science.  She also preferred learning science concepts from teens rather than adults.

“They explain it better,” Kwon said.

The teens themselves also found the concepts got cemented in their brains after learning how to distill the science to sound bites and elementary-school level language.

“I think I can explain it better and actually understand it better after saying it 50 times,” said Allison Von Vorstel, a senior at Carl Sandburg High School in Orland Park. 

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