UNM’s QuarkNet Workshop at Explora Helps Educators Understand Particle Physics : UNM Newsroom

The role of science in our everyday world has perhaps never been more important than in the past 18 months as a pandemic gripped the world. With that in mind, teaching the next generation of scientists is mission critical, and nurturing that interest in K-12 students is a key area for realizing big gains. It’s a mission that the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the University of New Mexico take seriously.

QuarkNet, a nonprofit collaboration dedicated to developing America’s tech workforce, is an NSF-funded partnership between Fermilab and the University of Notre Dame that provides science teachers with the means to further develop their skills and to bring real research experience to classrooms across the United States.

Through a nationwide network of QuarkNet Centers, including the University of New Mexico, NSF brings together science teachers and academic researchers in active research projects in contemporary physics with focused hands-on workshops covering a variety of topics. in physics. Teachers gain experience in actual scientific research, maximizing their talents and effectiveness in the classroom; researchers achieve educational impact from their research and engagement with their local communities; and students immerse themselves in meaningful scientific research, preparing them for post-secondary education and developing essential intellectual skills.

At a recent workshop held in Albuquerque at the Explora Science Center & Childen’s Museum, QuarkNet staff Shane Wood led a group of teachers who traveled from Grants, Durango, Ft. Wingate, Roswell, Laguna-Acoma School and several in Albuquerque, including Public Academy of the Performing Arts, Desert Ridge Middle School, and Escuela del Sol Montessori, through a series of activities and experiences designed to help teachers bring real-world research experience in their classrooms.

“Our mission is really to work with teachers who, in turn, work with students. From this process, I think there are a lot of potential gains that we see happening,” said Wood, who works at the University of Notre Dame where NSF funds for QuarkNet are allocated. “We work on everything from researching our future particle physicists, who may not have known about it until they learned about it in their high school physics class, to simply having an appreciation and an informed taxpayer.

“I think the fact that students and therefore society in general have a better understanding of how science works really allows us to have a more informed public. We really have many goals along these roads, but our main mission is to work with teachers to then bring 21st century research experiences into the classroom.

“The idea is to help teachers become more aware, comfortable and interested in particle physics. We were happy to offer this workshop to all teachers of science, technology and mathematics , and that is precisely because particle physics is not so well known.” – Professor Sally Seidel, UNM Department of Physics and Astronomy

UNM’s QuarkNet program is led by Professor Sally Seidel of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Seidel’s research interests include particle physics instrumentation and high energy collider physics. She is currently working on the Atlas experiment in high energy physics at the Large Hadron Collider, the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world. Seidel has coordinated QuarkNet activities at UNM since proposing a center and became the 48th QuarkNet member in 2016.

Events at the recent QuarkNet Workshop held at Explora included a presentation given by Seidel titled “The Beauty of Particle Physics”, a basic introduction to particle physics also known as high-energy physics, which studies the most small building blocks of nature. This particular field of science is a way to learn what the universe was like just seconds after it was born, billions of years before life existed to see it first hand.

Other activities included mixing the particle game, an activity based on particle maps describing the fundamental particles and their characteristics to become familiar with the Standard Model. Another fun activity was Rolling with Rutherford where the probe and target are a number of balls lined up in a row. The activity consists of rolling another marble in the aligned area. The data then consists of calculating the diameter of the target balls to use indirect measurements to determine a parameter. Teachers also took part in a real-time experiment to visualize particle tracks in a portable cloud chamber detector. The workshop also included a presentation on the LHC and what happens there.

“The idea is to help teachers be more aware, comfortable and interested in particle physics. We were happy to bring this to all science, technology and math teachers, and that’s precisely because particle physics is not so well known,” said Seidel, who enjoys helping people understand the technological implications of particle physics. “People like Shane and I partner with community engagement events like this to engage teachers and build this science education to try to help people understand the scientific description of the world.”

Previous [email protected] activities have included a guided behind-the-scenes technical tour of the Very Large Array, a science heritage history tour at Los Alamos, and a high school workshop with a variety of presentations where students must be teachers themselves.

Turtle Haste, who has participated in QuarkNet twice at Desert Ridge Middle School in Albuquerque, enjoyed the workshop and thinks mentoring young students in STEM fields is imperative.

“It is extremely important. We come from a generation where there is a lot of bias against women in science,” Haste said. “It took me a long time to find someone who would take me in no matter what and get me through it. If I hadn’t had that mentor, I probably would have ended up being a secretary for that period. But because I had someone like, ‘Hey, you know what? You get this, let’s go. So I think it’s really important to mentor young students.

The [email protected] program is open to all New Mexico middle and high school teachers interested in gaining research experience. For more information, visit [email protected]

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