2015 Boston QuarkNet Annual Report

Boston QuarkNet Center

2015 Annual Report




  As indicated in meeting Minutes included below, we had another active year at the Boston Center (in continuous operation since 1999).

Mentors:  Prof. George Alverson, Northeastern University
                  Prof. Ulruch Heintz, Brown University



  Another convivial meeting occurred tonight with a few new participants. Greg Schwanbeck from Westwood High School, Ratnakar Amaravadi from Natick High School, and Justin Goding, who is planning a career change from engineering to physics teaching, joined us for the first time. George Alverson from Northeastern, Tom Jordan, our QuarkNet staff member from UMass Amherst, and the usual suspects of Catherine Newman (nee Haberkorn), Mike Wadness, Mike Hirsh, George Odell, and Rick Dower filled out the crew. Congratulations to Catherine on her wedding this past summer!


  After our usual conversation about physics teaching over snacks, Mike Hirsh showed us a fascinating Veritasium video on YouTube about Kahn Academy and Science Teaching. The indication was that explaining a topic clearly without requiring the student to confront his or her misconceptions along the way may be counterproductive because students tend to hear what they expect to hear and get confirmed in their incorrect explanations. Greg followed that with some slides from a recent presentation he gave on the virtues of Peer Instruction (a technique developed by Eric Mazur at Harvard) to get students talking about their explanations of phenomena before an explanation is given. That way their misconceptions are brought into the open, and the teacher or other students can confront them with other evidence that challenges those misconceptions. We discussed that difference between a conceptual understanding of phenomena and an algorithmic understanding with which a student may be able to calculate a numerically correct answer to a problem but not be able to explain properly what is happening and why things work the way they do.


  George Odell demonstrated the iSense web site and data analysis platform and extolled its many easy-to-use features. Mike Hirsh demonstrated a small copper sheet swinging between two magnets and coming to an abrupt stop due to the eddy currents generated. Rick followed that with a neodymium magnet dropping at a slow steady velocity through a copper pipe and a longer aluminum pipe  in the same time. Mike Wadness explained the Particle Physics Masterclass student exercise (coming up on March 14, 2015 at Northeastern) to the new folks. We ended by setting the date and time for our next meeting as Wednesday, February 25 at Roxbury Latin. Among other things, we will be going through the Z-mass exercise that is part of the preparation for the Masterclass. We hope to see many of you then. For now, we wish you a Joyous Holiday Season and a Happy New Year!



  Our winter meeting took place on Wednesday February 25, 2015 at Roxbury Latin School. In addition to regulars like Mike Wadness, George Odell, and me, we were joined by Charlotte Wood-Harrington, Justin Goding, and via video conference Tammy Kjonaas and two other teachers interested in preparing for a QuarkNet Masterclass. Mike Wadness led the Masterclass updadte session and wolked everyone through the use of the ispy CMS event display program and the CMS CIMA Masterclass protocall for examining Z and Higgs boson candidates in the CMS data. The session concluded with teachers working through the Mass Calc Z exercise. We were happy that the meeting was scheduled for a Wednesday and not a Monday when the apparently inevitable Monday snowstorm in Boston would have meant a postponement and rescheduling of the meeting. Hot cider and snacks kept our spirits up on the chilly evening.



  On Tuesday March 10, six of my students and I had the pleasure of a video conference with Elisa Gatz and her students in DeKalb, IL for an ATLAS Masterclass. Elisa and I have fond memories of working together at the CERN HST program during July 2010.



 Mike Wadness and Prof. George Alverson led the Boston CMS Masterclass at Northeastern University with about 20 students. A good time was had by all.




  As many of you know, Tom Jordan, our QuarkNet staff resresentative in the New England area died unexpectedly of a heart attack last week. He was only 52. Mike Wadness, Mike Hirsh, Gerry Gagnon, and I attended a Rememberance Service with Tom's family, friends, and Fermilab colleagues this past Tuesday (4/7/2015) in Northampton, MA. The depth of affection that he engendered in those with whom he lived and worked was evident from the memories recalled by those in attendance. Mike Wadness spoke of Tom's love of fun and adventure during a car trip to see Mt. St. Helens while at the Protland AAPT meeting. I noted Tom's use of questions and suggestions rather than answers to prompt people to try and answer their own questions. The service was a moving tribute to a colleague who will be missed.



  We had our spring meeting on a cool evening in June (6/3) and a welcome reunion with  our first mentors Ulrich Heintz (Brown University) and Darien Wood (Northeastern University). QuarkNet teachers in attendance were Tammy Kjonaas and Chris Perkins (Wheeler School), Catherine Newman and Mike Wadness (Medford High), George Odell (North Andover High), Gerry Gagnon( Newton South High), Justin Goding, Mike Hirsh (Needham High), and Rick Dower (Roxbury Latin School).


  After initial snacks and conversation about the Particle Fever movie and the pleasures of teaching at the end of the year, Mike Wadness showed us some cosmic ray data that his class had taken. They pulled out the leading edge times of three-fold coincidence hits in the detector paddles, which had been placed in a vertical line with about 1 m between the top and middle paddles and 1 m between the middle and bottom paddles.After scrubbing the data to eliminate spurious counts, they were able to show that the muons traveled near the speed of light. When that data was combined with muon lifetime data (2.2 microseconds), they made the inference of time dilation for high-speed muons. 


  To celebrate the accomplishment today (6/3) of stable 6.5 TeV proton beams, Darien showed the group the "Collide" cover and video put together by a group at the LHC.



  On Wednesday and Thursday August 12-13 Amanda Bragan Harden, Catherine Newman, Tammy Kjonaas, Mike Wadness, Chris Perkins, Gerry Gagnon, and Rick Dower got together at Roxbury Latin to share stories and work with our QuarkNet cosmic ray detectors. Mike Hirsh stopped by for a while and told us about his time at the CERN HST summer program before he had to fly to Tampa to look in on a relative.  Wednesday we started by catching up on each other’s recent activities. Gerry was at the QuarkNet Data Camp at Fermilab. Mike was in New Mexico for the meeting of the QuarkNet Virtual Center. Rick assisted Ken Cecire at the Johns Hopkins Data Workshop then acted as a facilitator at the University of Kansas Data Workshop. The rest of the day was largely devoted to setting up the detectors and downloading the EQUIP software developed by an Indiana high school student and others at the Perdue QuarkNet center. EQUIP makes data collection much easier and allows the experimenter to assess the quality of the data as it is being gathered (plots of data rates, etc. are assembled in process) rather than wait until data is uploaded and analyzed. EQUIP is available for download at:



With EQUIP Tammy and Chris were able to find that one of their detector paddles had a light leak after they discovered that the count rate went down substantially during lunch when the lab lights were turned off. Similarly, Mike found that one of his cable connections was not reliable after looking at the data rates from an overnight run.

Rick discovered that his computer unexpectedly turned itself off overnight, but that is another story.


  On Thursday, we reviewed the process of “blessing” data as a comparison reference when uploading the data to the QuarkNet server. The we set up the three detectors for a run so that we could practice putting together uploaded data from different detectors. We collected data during lunch and during the time it took to watch the PBS program The Bomb about the Manhattan Project, the atomic anxiety of the '50s and ‘60s, and the nuclear arms control agreements that brought us to today. We streamed the program from WGBH. 

  After some practice analysis of the uploaded data, Tammy and Chris showed us the video that was part of Wheeler School’s Honorable Mention entry in the CERN Beamline-for-Schools contest. Amanda told us about her experience at the week-long Inspiring Science Education conference in Marathonas, Attiki, Greece. Apparently this was the first year that U. S. teachers have attended this European-sponsored conference. The U. S. teachers were selected from among the QuarkNet ranks. Finally, Catherine, a Wheeler student, described some of the experiments she had done with the cosmic ray detector including finding an East-West difference in cosmic ray rates. She used the Penn state software that Rick had distributed last year along with recent updates.That software can be found at 




Respectfully submitted,

Rick Dower