Jun 25

Making Things Happen



Detector Rows at GRAND

The large ray detectors at Project GRAND are designed to collect data 24/7 all on their own.  So what do students and teachers working on GRAND do on a daily basis?  Well, one of their primary jobs on top of analyzing data collected, is to keep these detectors functioning a full 24/7.

The detectors must be outside in a wide field subject to an uncontrolled environment meaning any kind of weather that hits can affect them.  They need to be kept in a temperature controlled area with a low humidity which, as anyone who lives here would say, is hard to find in the South Bend summer so they are all placed in individual huts which attempt to control the environment a bit.  To help them in the summer, dehumidifiers are placed in every detector and run 24/7.  Dehumidifiers need to be fixed quite often, however, so that becomes a large portion of the fixing that goes on.  Other things that may happen less often would be things like the actual detector malfunctioning or a powerful storm hitting leading to repairs being needed on the huts surrounding the detector.  Students and teachers receive signals to a computer when one or more of the huts is not functioning properly so repairs can be made.

More information on Project GRAND including a live view of the status of each individual detector can be found on the GRAND website.  An in depth description of the experiments happening at GRAND can be found here.

Jun 24

Hundreds of Thousands of Possibilities


Example Set of Histograms (2000 data pieces)

Students in the CMS Data group at QuarkNet began a new project in analyzing data last week and will continue it into the next few weeks.  They began by learning both the basics of the CMS detector at the LHC and the basics of MatLab.  This computer program is brand new for most of the students working in this group and can get complicated.  I have been working with this group and can personally speak on just how complex the program is for someone who has never used something like it before.

Students will implement MatLab to analyze a group of a hundred thousand data plots from the CMS detector.  The program can do a multitude of things with this data such as making it more visual by printing out graphs and histograms of this information such as the one above.  Once the data is in the program, students can analyze the data plots looking for patterns or anything that might be of interest to physicists.

A hundred thousand pieces of data is certainly a lot to look at but who knows what they may find.  The students may make some important discoveries from this data.


Jun 18

Can We Stop the Zombie Apocalypse?


How are we going to stop Contagion if it hits?  Why do flocks of birds move in the way that they do?  How do we stop current population growth that seems to be shooting out of control?  What is the best strategy to stop the zombie apocalypse?!

Any of these questions can be answered by use of a simulation program called NetLogo.  At NDQC this summer, a group of high school students and teachers are attempting to find answers to some of these questions.  By running simulations on this program, students are able to test certain variables on these situations to examine what the important variables are.  In a Contagion simulation (screenshot below), the student can change how contagious a disease is to watch the effect on how it spreads.  In a bird flocking simulation (screenshot above), the student can examine the effects of a hawk flying through the flock might have.  In a zombie apocalypse simulation the student can change whether or not the military can use nuclear power to destroy the zombies.


There are a multitude of possibilities to research with or just to play around with.  Science can be fun!  Take a look at the program for yourself…

NDQC Biocomplexity Website

Running a Few Simulations



Jun 18

Summer at ND QuarkNet

Expect great things from the Notre Dame QuarkNet Center (NDQC) this summer as a group of  professors, teachers, and high school students embark on research in the field of particle physics.  A series of seven specific research projects are to be conducted over the next few weeks.  I will be attempting to track the progress of these projects by taking photos and writing blog posts on any important happenings.  Below I have written a brief overview of each of the seven projects and their goals for the summer.



In this first project, the students and teachers will be examining simulations of certain events that may be experienced in our own lives as well as events like a zombie apocalypse that may be a bit less common.  They will use a computer program called NetLogo which models events like this giving the user the ability to change certain variables and observe how the changing of that variable may affect the outcome. Events that can be looked at include spreading of a disease through a population, flocking of birds in the sky, protein binding, blood clotting, myxobacterium movement, and others.  Below is a screenshot of a sheep/wolf simulation like one may see when they use NetLogo.



Cosmic Ray Detectors (CRDs):

This project will be examining the cosmic rays that come shooting in from space and examine properties of the muons that are detected.  This project focuses on detecting the muons and separating them from anything else that the detector might pick up.  A muon is like an oversized electron and they can be detected by placing a series of ray detector paddles one on top of the other.  Only the muons can make it through the detector far enough to be counted by all four detector paddles.


CMS Upgrade:

The CMS Upgrade project is focused on testing and building parts to be used in an upgrade done on the CERN Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland.  This upgrade is to be done on the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector (pictured below) in a few years as physicists look to advance their knowledge in particle physics.  The CMS is one of four particle detectors in the collider.    The LHC has the ability to fire protons at incredibly fast speeds to do things such as recreating energy densities of the Big Bang.  The students and teachers on this project will be testing certain parts and pieces to be added to the detector to see what works best.  This project will be a very hands on project with some potentially very important results that hopefully will end up being used in the LHC.  The LHC currently includes over 500 components designed and constructed in part by high school teachers and students at NDQC.



CMS Data:

The CMS Data group will be working on the CMS detector at CERN as well but they will be looking at the current data that has been released.  The Data group will try to look at the data that has been released and make it accessible.  The students and teachers will change certain graph plots to attempt to find meaning in it all.  They have available hundreds of thousands of plots to use in gaining insight into the physics of the LHC.



The Digital Visualization Theatre (DVT) is the digital planetarium located in the Jordan Hall of Science at Notre Dame.  The job of the DVT group is to continue to write and produce a show in the digital planetarium for the general public on the LHC and its detectors.  The main focus on this project will be constructing all of the animation that is necessary for the show to happen.  Using a Hollywood level animation program (Lightwave), students and teachers will have to build everything themselves on the computer and then make it all into a show for the planetarium.  This will be no easy task, however, as some of the more complicated pieces to the show may take hours to complete.




The astrophysics project, as the name states, will primarily be studying the sky and stars.  One thing they will do is observe solar flares on the Sun which are a source of many strong cosmic rays.  They will be working on the roof of the Jordan Hall of Science with different telescopes primarily when it is dark out to take pictures of many different astronomical happenings in space.  They can expect to see some incredibly extraordinary events through the telescopes.  The students and teachers will collect their data late into the nighttime hours.  Then they will be able to analyze their pictures in the morning back in the lab and make observations based on what they saw the night before.


Project GRAND:

The study of Gamma Ray Astrophysics at Notre Dame (GRAND) is conducted in a large field off campus (below).  It is a series of sixty four cosmic ray detectors much like the ones that I talked about earlier.  The detectors function the same way as the CRDs in that they are stacked on top of each other and detect muons.   These particular detectors differ, however, in that they are much larger than the small cosmic ray detectors that will be used in the lab.  Each detector is housed in a building that looks a bit like an enlarged doghouse.  A key part to this project will be simply keeping the experiment running by doing maintenance on the detectors when needed.   The students and teachers also will look at the data, which is collected 24/7, and draw conclusions based on the muons that are detected.



May 21

Transit of Venus Activities

Deb Notestine and Keith Davis have put together a great poster covering some upcoming ND Transit-of-Venus activity. Hope to see you at one or more of these events!


You can get your own Solar Goggles by doing the scavenger hunt; for more information about Transit of Venus activities in Michiana visit TransitofVenus.org!

REMINDER: Do not look at the sun without PROPER eye protection – ordinary sun glasses don’t count!!!

Feb 13

Three great talks

Come hear three great presentations co-sponsored by Notre Dame’s College of Science. This is an extraordinary set of opportunities.

Dec 02

Christmas Star: free DVT presentation Dec 10, 11


Hope to see you there!

Nov 14

Back-2-Back Thursday

Thursday was a busy day for JINA outreach. From 3:30-5:15 we were at Monroe Community Circle Center (MC3) making mini-bots with excited 4th graders during one of our two after-school programs. Students at El Campito made the mini-bots last week. The mini-bots utilize a battery, motor, and Newton’s 3rd law to hop around on a surface when complete. This week and next, they will make electric cars that zoom around!

From 6-7:15 we held “Supernova in a lab” at the Centre Branch Library for 4-12th graders. Students heard about nuclear astrophysics, and then took turns smashing 12C nuclei to make rare exotic nuclei, and playing isotope bingo. We concluded with a short talk on careers in Nuclear Astrophysics (which can be found on Prezi). The children (and their parents) are looking forward to the next event.

Nov 08

Introduction to JINA

Hello World! This introductory post serves to acquaint you with all that is JINA Outreach. First, JINA stands for Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics which is a collaboration between astrophysicists, astronomers, and nuclear physicists at Notre Dame, Michigan State, and University of Chicago. We try to answer questions such as: Why do stars explode? Where did the elements come from? What is the physics of compact stars? Basically we deal with the what, where, when and why of how the extremely tiny nuclei govern the stars in the cosmos. Sagan’s “We are made of star stuff” is only the beginning. But that’s the research side. I want to talk about the outreach side of JINA.

There are many sides of outreach. We primarily reach out to the public and K-12 teachers and students. Our public events can be found on the calendar. We have web resources for teachers in addition to offering classroom support in the form of giving guest lectures, purchasing lab equipment, or financing field trips to one of our labs.

I like to divide students into two categories: Those who understand the periodic table and those who don’t. For the former, we start where the periodic table leaves off and delve straight into nuclear physics, and then connect it to astronomy. We do this over the course of an hour for some programs (such as an upcoming event at the Centre Branch library), or over the course of 1-2 weeks during a camp such as MST, PAN @ ND or PAN @ MSU.

For the younger students who may not yet know what an element is, we usually focus on astronomy, and take advantage of the special connection of Art 2 Science. By teaching astronomy through art projects, children are afforded the opportunity to not only learn science in a new way, but also the chance to use art mediums that may be new to them. Art 2 Science is flexible enough to take place in the classroom, during an after school program, or as its own summer camp. JINA uses Art 2 Science in all of these venues.

During the after school programs, we alternate weekly between science related art projects, and creative science projects, exposing the children to both theoretical and experimental learning. One week, children may paint their own constellation after reading a book about existing constellations, and the next week they may make a battery powered mini-bot that hops around the table.

For more information, check out JINA’s website, Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.

Sep 28

Speed of light and STEM culture


Yesterday the world heard from CERN the announcement of a remarkable preliminary finding: that neutrinos arriving at the OPERA detector seem to be showing up too early…about 60 nanoseconds too early. That doesn’t sound like much of an offense. But that 60ns early arrival corresponds (very roughly) to the neutrinos being more than ten yards further along in their journey than they could have possibly traveled in that time frame, if Eistein and lots of subsequent physics is right that the speed of light is an upper limit on how fast anything can travel. And the early arrival seems especially well documented, with more than 10,000 events in a context where the distance of the more than 700 km trip is known to within 20 cm and the timing to within 10ns. So the offense seems real, and seems to challenge a central tenet of modern physics. This interpretation seems unlikely to everyone, but very serious efforts to interpret the measurement in some other way have so far not succeeded; this is at least part of the reason why the experiment opened up their results to the world, so that others might help to find an alternate interpretation. So far, no one has. So the OPERA announcement is interesting news in itself.

I had a chance to watch the announcement live (now here on video) from CERN with three high school physics teachers at Mounds View High School in Minnesota. We were gathered in an I2U2 CMS e-Lab workshop, and were scheduled–not kidding, here–to do an overview of the “big questions” in particle physics at that very hour, which we accomplished differently than expected by watching 90 minutes of the OPERA announcement. These teachers (the four of us) are all QuarkNet teachers, participants in a program designed to connect high school teachers with high energy physics. I cannot imagine a single snapshop which better testifies to the success of QuarkNet than the image of four teachers engaged in a professional development activity in a high school setting, their scheduled review of big physics questions being set aside for genuine participation in a major announcement from CERN.
These teachers had interacted sufficiently with particle physics in recent years to absorb–drinking from the hydrant though we were–the main thrust and many of the details of the 90 minute modestly technical presentation to the world’s high energy physics community. In fact, these teachers are part of that community in a broad but very real sense. They could hardly wait to share the news in their classrooms, thus inviting students into participation in STEM community as well. QuarkNet has made research in high energy physics, the core activity of the particle physics community, look good to high school teachers: we were spellbound by the presentation, and wouldn’t have wanted to be doing anything else at that very moment. Culture makes what is good, look good. That’s just what QuarkNet has made happen for teachers, and for this group of the four of us in particular. The CMS e-Lab is one strategy for making it happen for students, too.

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