work with Iowa high schools to find the matter of life
"Quarks are the basic building blocks of atoms, and therefore of
our universe. They can be up, down, bottom, top, charm, or strange."
Yasar Onel, a professor of physics and director of QuarkNet at
The University of Iowa, says all this as he is pulling out his keys
and opening his office door. For the next hour he speaks, in a lilting
hybrid accent of the dozen or so languages he knows, about symmetry
and the standard model of high energy particle physics, and the
elusive Higgs particles which most in the field believe exist but
none have proven. As a member of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS)
Collaboration, a consortium of more than 1,600 scientists from 149
institutions, Onel intends to settle the question of Higgs.
"In a model like ours, we dont know why quarks have massmathematically
we cant prove it." Onel leaps up and begins writing on a blackboard
already crowded with formulas and indecipherable print. "We assume
the presence of the Higgs particles, but they have never been observed.
The challenge now is to go deeper into particles such as protons
and neutrons, to find out what really is inside."
Thats where QuarkNet comes in. A national program funded
by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy,
QuarkNet was developed two years ago in an effort to recruit outstanding
high school students into high-tech and scientific fields. And it
works on the premise that enthusiasm like Onels is contagious.
In a flash, he moves from theory to a description of the CMS project
at CERN in Switzerland: the Large Hadron Collider. Once it is perfected,
this machine will set opposing fields of 7 T (tera = 10 to the power
of 12) electron volts on a ring 26 kilometers in circumference and
accelerate them using super-conducting magnets.
"One of the proton beams will come from here and the other from
here." He holds his index fingers about eight inches apart, in mid-air,
and begins moving them together. "Then they collide at this intersection
point, and there is a big SPLASH! Particles flying off in all different
directions. We can measure the light they create, and hopefully
this will bring us to the discovery of the actual Higgs particle."
The collider is not expected to be ready until late 2005. Onels
research team, which includes three high school physics teachers
from Iowa, will contribute the machines Very Forward Calorimeter
componentsmeasurement tools, made from steel plates and thick
quartz fibers, that detect "Cerenkov" light and collect it in a
series of 3,000 photomultipliers.
One goal of QuarkNet is to attract new talent into physicsto
ferret out those bright young minds who may one day find the answers.
The other is to engage students in the process now, providing them
with teachers who have hands-on experience in physics laboratories,
and inviting them to participate in solving universal conundrums.
In 1999, Peter Bruecken, a physics teacher at Bettendorf High School,
joined the University team working on the CMS project; last year,
he spent a month in Geneva working directly with the labs at CERN.
As a QuarkNet participant, Brueckens primary role is to learn
from professional researchers and take his experiences in Onels
laboratory and the labs at CERN back to his students.
"This is making what I teach more relevant," Bruecken says. "The
biggest advantage is being in contact with real research. This is
science at its purest, basic levelresearchers looking for
new things, and I get to be a part of it. My credibility as a teacher
has increased. Students ask me more questions than they did before,
and I have more answers."
In all, nine Iowa high school physics teachers have attended intensive
seminars on high energy particle physics through QuarkNet. That
means approximately 150 high school students in the state have been
exposed to the project through their teachers.
This year, the University will take QuarkNet a step further, inviting
students to become personally involved. All 3,000 photomultipliers
slated for the collider must be checked for defects in 2001-2002,
and Onel hopes to put together a group of Iowas most motivated
high school students to conduct the tests.
"Our goal is to excite and motivate young brains and draw them
into the field of physics," Onel says. "We must train them at an
early age, give them information, keep them engaged. This is so
important: these are our leaders of the future. Maybe theyre
the people who will go deep enough into the particles to find out
what the world is really made of."