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March 20, 2009
Contact: Brendan M. Lynch, University Relations, (785) 864-8855.

At KU, local high school students to comb data from European atom smasher

LAWRENCE — It’s the world’s largest and most advanced scientific instrument. And even though the Large Hadron Collider lies buried underneath the border of France and Switzerland, thousands of miles from Kansas, soon area high school students will have the chance to learn more about its operation and how to analyze the data it yields.

On March 24, students from Lawrence High School, Lawrence Free State High School and Jefferson West High School in Meriden will be on hand at the University of Kansas to help top particle physicists from around the world who hope to unlock secrets of the universe with the 27-kilometer circumference atom smasher operated by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

The local high school students will analyze data from a CERN experiment called DELPHI using computer programs that will be accessed from their Web browsers. Then, via videoconference, the students will compare notes with participants at other universities across the United States — in much the same way that professional particle physicists collaborate internationally.

“I’m pretty excited about the class,” said Philip Baringer, KU professor of physics and astronomy. “It will give local high school students an opportunity to work with data from a real particle physics experiment. They will get a feel for how science is done, including the collaborative aspects of it. I know the Large Hadron Collider has generated great interest amongst young people. I hope the class will strengthen that interest and deepen their understanding of particle physics research.”

The high school students’ participation is made possible through an annual program called Hands-on Particle Physics Masterclasses. More than 80 universities and laboratories in 23 countries will provide student research opportunities at their institutions. In the United States, 21 other institutions will participate along with KU.

The students’ day at KU will begin with an introduction to particle physics followed by a tour of the nuclear physics lab, particle physics lab and condensed matter labs in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Malott Hall. Next, the students will be introduced to the data analysis project and learn how to identify particles. After lunch, the students will conduct data analysis with real data from CERN’s electron-positron collider, known as LEP. Following that will be an evaluation survey and a videoconference with other sites participating in the master class.

Finally, the high schools will be given CD-ROMs with particle physics information and interactive materials concerning the fundamental building blocks of nature and the tools used to study them.

Worldwide, the master classes are coordinated by physics professor Michael Kobel at the University of Dresden, in close cooperation with the European Particle Physics Outreach Group and with the help of the Helmholtz Alliance, “Physics at the Terascale” and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

This is the fifth year that the master classes have been offered. Media are invited to attend the event.

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