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Mastering the mysteries of particle physics

On Saturday March 15, 2008, students from Mills Godwin High School (Richmond, VA) came to Hampton University with their physics teacher, Michael Fetsko, to participate in a Particle Physics Masterclass.

The Masterclass is a one-day event in which students analyze real particle physics data, with some advice from particle physicists, who are there to help students understand and interpret the data. The students at Hampton U worked in parallel with students in Boston and Houston and video conferenced with them to discuss and combine results. This was part of a busy two-and-a-half weeks during which thousands of students internationally -- over 150 from the US alone -- did the same thing.

At Hampton University, the Mills Godwin students analyzed almost 1000 particle physics events (like the one pictured) from the Delphi detector at the Large Electron-Positron (LEP) collider. LEP was the accelerator that formerly occupied the tunnel in which the new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is being constructed. Understanding the results from LEP will help us understand the new physics for which we will search with the detectors at the LHC. At Hampton University, faculty members Dr. Vassilis Vassilikopoulos and Dr. Kenneth McFarlane worked with the Mills Godwin students.

At the end of the day, Mr. Fetsko and his students shared their results and their questions in a videconference with students in Houston and Boston. .

LHC Postings is a blog on the COSM webserver, for students to write about particle physics. For three days, including the Saturday at Hampton, students live-blogged their Masterclasses, adding comments such as:

"Right now [we] are at Hampton University getting a quick review of the Standard Model by Dr. Vassillis Vassilikopolous, who is very nice and very informative! All of the computers are set up (super nice computers) for us to start looking at events!"

"Lunch is just ending, and we are getting ready to start analyzing particle events. We have already learned a lot about the standard model and interesting new theories, so I can't wait to see what else we can learn. Actually, during lunch we got to have some really cool conversations about CERN and its possibilities thanks to Dr. McFarlane."

"We had a very exciting day as we learnt about the Standard Model and had presentations on different topics pertaining to particle physics which were pretty amazing."

"It is really cool to be around college professors."

"I guess one thing I learnt was that science is a collabaorative process and interacting with other sites across the country and sharing the data helped us to understand our statistical differences and similarities."

The March 15 Masterclass was the result of the efforts of many people but it is only the beginning. Next year, the Masterclass is planned to expand in the US, the work on blogs will intensify, and activity surrounding the start-up of the LHC will present new challenges and opportunities. Most of all, this is a beginning for the next generation of particle physicists, some of who may have been sharing pizza with Dr. Vassilikopoulos and Dr. McFarlane on March 15. It is these young people who will one day analyze data from the LHC to create masterworks of the new physics.

Masterclass participants at Hampton University A Delphi event viewed with WIRED

To 'see' into the subatomic world, we need a machine (LEP) and a detector (Delphi), just as you need light (from the Sun or a light bulb) and your eye (the detector) to see the larger world. Delphi and LEP ceased operation in the year 2000 to make way for the LHC.

Vassilis Vassilakopoulos expounding on the Standard
           Model Mr Fetsko with some of his physics students Discussing a Z decay seen by Delphi


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Last updated Feb. 2008