Students learn from physicists during Masterclass at Fermilab

A collaborative effort, students all over the world have a chance to visit labratories and learn about physics from physicists, like this group at Fermilab in 2008. Photo: Cindy Arnold

Around the world, high school students are discovering what it means to be a physicist in a program called Masterclass. From Israel to Illinois, students have the opportunity to spend a day conversing with scientists and analyzing real scientific data. Recently, three local high school groups had the chance to participate in the Fermilab QuarkNet Masterclass.

“The Masterclasses offer students the opportunity to look at real data from accelerators and interpret it,” Chris Stoughton, the Fermilab QuarkNet mentor, said. “They work in a collaboration with their peers and have the opportunity to ask scientists questions. This gives students a glimpse of what actually happens in the scientific community.”

The International Particle Physics Outreach Group, formed by the European Committee for Future Accelerators (ECFA) and the High Energy Particle Physics Board of the European Physical Society (EPS-HEPP Board), offers the Masterclasses in 31 countries. The U.S. sector, called QuarkNet, offers classes from mid-February through April.

This year, Ken Cecire, from Notre Dame University, and Stoughton designed a new experiment for the students and tested it at Fermilab on Feb. 18. In this new experiment, the students interpreted data from the LHC to measure the ratios of W and Z boson production and to determine the Z mass.

“This was the first time we analyzed this data set with high school students. They were very engaged and asked a lot of good questions. After they finished interpreting the data, they were able to compare their results to published scientific papers,” Stoughton said.

Teachers from the participating classes prepared their students for the Masterclass by giving them a basic background of the Standard Model and elementary physics. When the students came to Fermilab, Stoughton showed them some simple detectors and extrapolated the concepts to large detectors like the LHC.

“The goal of this class is to show that science is accessible. Even through the math is very complex, the concepts we cover are real scientific conclusions and based off common sense,” Stoughton said.

Institutions all over the country sponsor QuarkNet Masterclasses. The next Fermilab QuarkNet opportunity is the Summer Research Program, which offers eight high school students the unique experience of performing research at Fermilab for six weeks during the summer.

“We’re accepting applications,” Stoughton said. The application is due April 1 and available here.

—Sarah Charley