The IceCube observatory detects over 250 million muons every day in
its quest for elusive neutrinos, but muons occur in everyday places like
Delaware, too, Holder said. The students watched as he showed the
electrical signal created when muons passed through two rudimentary
boxes containing the photomultiplier tubes, then how the same signals
could be recorded as the muons traveled through the boxes and other
solid objects, such as DMA senior Chris Trentham’s head.
Tim Myers, a teacher at Perryville High School in Perryville,
Maryland, said he purposely brought sophomore students this year who
haven’t yet made decisions about what college to attend.
“I wanted to expose them to the University of Delaware’s Physics
Department and the complex research that’s available to individuals who
study science,” Myers said. “It helps them look into the future … to see
life beyond high school.”
Rory Walsh, a senior from Newark High, said he “had no idea about the
conditions at the South Pole” before hearing James Roth speak. Roth,
senior supervisor of the electronics shop for the
University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, has been to the South
Pole 14 times over the last 16 years, working alongside researchers from
institutions worldwide on the IceCube project, which is supported
through the National Science Foundation and coordinated by the
University of Wisconsin.
Roth shared how UD researchers and engineers had a hand in developing
and constructing the massive telescope’s surface array of detectors,
known as “IceTop,” that cap the IceCube observatory in Antarctica. He
also described the difficulties of even getting to, and working in,
remote locations in the polar regions. It takes more than 30 hours to
travel the 12,000 or so miles from Delaware to the outpost, he said, not
to mention the harsh environmental conditions and the challenges of
living long stretches of time confined in close quarters with 150
researchers, engineering and IT folk.
Collecting the data, Roth continued, is easy—it’s making sense of the
data that is hard. Only four percent of our universe is made up of
regular matter like atoms and molecules. The other 96 percent is stuff
that even highly educated scientists barely understand, such as dark
matter and dark energy. Neutrinos, though, are an important piece of the
puzzle, one scientists hope will help unlock new clues about the
universe and what lies beyond.
Until that happens, however, helping high school students learn about
the far-flung research they might pursue in physics, astronomy or other
scientific fields remains central to the IceCube Masterclass mission.
It’s also a key reason that high school teachers give up valuable class
time to bring students to UD and other campuses.
“Making that connection for students that have an interest is
important,” said Jamy Haughey, a physics teacher at Sanford School.
Students participants at the UD MasterClass represented the following
high schools in Delaware—Newark High, Sanford School, Caravel Academy
and Delaware Military Academy—and Perryville High School in Maryland. An
additional 17 institutions hosted similar Masterclass events in March
in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and several U.S. locations in
Alabama, Florida, Michigan, New York, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
by Karen Roberts; photos of master class by Kathy F. Atkinson; IceCube
photo by Erik Beiser, National Science Foundation