Northfield ACC partakes in flux study cosmic ray experiment

QuarkNet gives freshmen the opportunity to use advanced detector

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Students at the Northfield freshman campus had the opportunity to operate and upload data from a cosmic ray detector, using it to measure the occurrence of muons (a particle similar to an electron).

The cosmic ray detector was available for students from Mar. 19 to Apr. 15, and located it in the AAC.

The target of this machine was for students interested in performing high energy physics research regarding the presence of the many cosmic rays that hit earth about every second.

Cosmic rays mainly originating outside the solar system, but secondary rays can hit earth’s surface. They have a very high-energy radiation.
QuarkNet (from Fermilab) allows for schools to be provided with a cosmic ray detector, but trained teachers must be present in order to use it.

Physics and geoscience tutor, Nate Unterman, provided assistance with his expertise of in using this detector.

“There is no charge for students to be able to use the detector, but students must regularly be uploading data,” said Unterman, “I am a QuarkNet fellow, and I suggested if there was student interest in the cosmic ray detector.”

Students get a unique experience to collect a lot of data on the occurrence of cosmic ray particles within our atmosphere.

“This is an opportunity to do high energy physics research. This is both for practice in using a moun detector, or original experiments,” added Unterman.

The experiments they are able to conduct allow them to collect the data they need to upload regularly in order to be able to use the detector. When studying the occurrence of the muons within the cosmic rays, there are many experiments students can perform.

One such experiment is a flux study, with looks at the number of muons recorded per unit area per minute. Flux studies are done comparing muon occurrence with different directions, time of day, or differences in solar activity.

“Nearly all muons being measured come from the cosmic rays,” said Unterman. The data that students can collect on such miniscule particles from cosmic rays are precise with the detector.

Shower studies are another experiment that test the details of the muons the detector records. Shower studies detect the muons and determine the direction of the muon’s origin.

Along with these main experiments, there are many other experiments that can be performed by students including the speed of the muon, altitude, flux, weather, and lifetime.

These are extremely unique experiments that many students will not have the opportunity to perform in their high school experience. This opportunity is something New Trier does not take for granted and is a great way for freshmen, especially those interested in science fields, to use a tool.

The detector itself is something anyone can use; it isn’t a high tech machine with numerous confusing buttons. According to Unterman, “If you can use the web, you can operate the detector and upload data.”

This is another reason for freshmen to get their hands on the detector. It is easy to use while obtaining detailed data.

During the process of using the detector, the data is analyzed. The analyzing stage is done by using a grid computing system. After the computations are made, the results are returned to the student.

From these results, analyzing can be done to collect a wide range of data. Students are able to take these results and interpret their graphs.

Currently, the Northfield campus plans to keep the detector until Apr. 15. However, Unterman explained that “If there is enough interest, we will be able to get a detector kit, where we will be able to build our own detector, and have it on a semi-permanent basis.”

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