Cosmic ray synergies

In laboratories, cosmic rays have been the subject of scientific research for many years. A more recent development is their appearance in schools, as educational tools. A recent workshop at CERN, organised by ASPERA in collaboration with EPPOG and EPPCN, had the goal of bringing together ideas and initiatives with a view to setting up a future common project.


Presentation at the workshop on 15 October.

In research, as in education, you can sometimes get things done more rapidly and easily by joining forces. For roughly the past decade, physicists have been taking their particle detectors to secondary schools. “The challenge now is to bring all of these existing projects together in a network,” says Arnaud Marsollier, in charge of communication for the ASPERA network and organiser of the workshop.

The workshop held on Friday, 15 October was attended by representatives of major European educational projects and members of the European Particle Physics Communication Network (EPPCN) and the European Particle Physics Outreach Group (EPPOG). In all, 21 countries were represented, among them the United States with its QuarkNet project (see box). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the possibility of enhancing the network of activities, in particular by pooling the various efforts. The large number of participants at the workshop showed the very considerable interest in and enthusiasm for this project. "By presenting ideas to everyone and sharing our practical knowledge, we reflected on how to put life into this project, at the European and not just at the national level,” notes Arnaud. “Currently, the various players throughout Europe tend to work in isolation, with considerable efforts required to build and operate their individual cosmic ray detection systems and to conduct the project with teachers and pupils. I am convinced that, if we work together, we will be able to learn from each other’s successes, and help new projects become operational more rapidly.”

One of the advantages of jointly running a project using different detectors would be the creation of a common data format, which would make it possible to manage the data centrally and make them accessible for everyone. This would open the way to their exploitation for real science, although that is not the main focus. Another possibility is the creation of a simplified, low-cost kit that could be used to launch activities more rapidly in countries where the necessary resources do not yet exist. “Participants need not sign up to the full network immediately. An easy-to-use device would be a way of attracting the interest of new teachers,” explains Arnaud.

The workshop spawned a large number of ideas. These now need to be structured with a view to proposing a network project to the European Commission. “It's very encouraging that we managed to get so many people together around a table. The support we received from CERN and the other institutions represented at that meeting will also be crucial for the project's success," he concluded.

A secondary school near CERN gets its detector

As one of its representatives was visiting CERN, the educational network QuarkNet from the USA took the opportunity to install a cosmic ray detector in a French secondary school close to CERN. QuarkNet, an initiative of Fermilab and universities in Florida, Washington and Notre Dame in the United States, has already installed some 400 cosmic ray detectors in US schools and around 150 others in educational establishments in 18 other countries around the world. QuarkNet has obtained funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the United States for extending the network to schools worldwide, by installing detectors in the vicinity of ILC conferences. Tom Jordan, one of the network leaders, spent two days at Le Joran, a secondary school in Prévessin, to install and calibrate the detector together with the physics teacher and students. Le Joran was not chosen at random: the school has signed up for a science laboratory partnership with CERN, and the physics teacher, Christophe Hugou, expressed a particular interest in the work on cosmic rays. The arrival of QuarkNet is thus a welcome development. The 20 students participating in the science laboratory will be able to harvest data and upload them to the network’s webpage. Earlier, the same students took part in the European Researchers Night held on 24 September this year.

by Laëtitia Pedroso