Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs


News Release

Contact: Tom Parisi, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-3635

June 9, 2008

High school teachers, students will build
cosmic ray detectors at NIU

DeKalb, Ill. — A group of high school teachers and students will arrive on campus at Northern Illinois University today for a weeklong study that promises to be out of this world.

The Department of Physics is hosting the Institute for Teachers and Students Studying Cosmic Rays. The 10 to 15 participants are associated with a QuarkNet center run jointly by NIU and Argonne National Laboratory. The objective is to infuse cutting-edge science into high school curriculums.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy, QuarkNet is a professional teacher development program. It boasts a nationwide network of 60 centers at top universities and national laboratories across the country. Argonne has been a center for many years, with NIU joining forces this year to strengthen and expand the program to areas farther west of Chicago. Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago are among other centers in the region.

QuarkNet seeks to involve high-school teachers and their students in cutting-edge research on the structure of matter and the fundamental forces of nature. During the summer, scientists work with teachers on physics projects that will later be introduced in high school classrooms.

NIU and Argonne scientists will provide background information to teachers and students on the study of elementary particles and cosmic rays, and participants will build cosmic ray detectors for use in their classrooms next fall.

Teachers attending the NIU institute are Jay Smith, DeKalb High School; Mike McHale, Byron High School; Dallas Turner, Auburn High School in Rockford; Christine Browne, Sterling High School; and James Browne, Amboy High School.

“Modern physics and elementary particles are not usual topics for high school physics classes, so this is a good way to expose students to the research being done in these disciplines and get them involved in doing research themselves,” NIU Science Outreach Coordinator Pati Sievert said.

“We asked the teachers to bring students who will be in their physics classes next fall so the students can mentor their classmates when they begin working with cosmic ray detectors,” she added.

Professor Dhiman Chakraborty in the NIU Department of Physics is the driving force behind NIU's involvement in the QuarkNet program. He and Robert Wagner of Argonne are also program mentors. Both will be among the presenters this week, delivering talks on the physics of elementary particles and its connection to cosmology. Professor Michael Fortner of NIU and Steve Kuhlmann of Argonne also will deliver lectures on experimental techniques and ongoing international projects in these areas.

The talks are intended to give the teachers and students enough background information to understand how the detectors work, to get a glimpse of why scientists are interested in elementary particles and cosmic rays, and to design experiments using the cosmic ray detectors.

Participants will assemble the detectors during the week and also will have access to two detectors on loan from other schools in the Argonne QuarkNet group. By week's end, they will already be gathering data.

More information about the QuarkNet program at NIU can be found online at www.niu.edu/physics/news/quarknet.shtml .

—30—