Boston QuarkNet Center 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. Ulrich Heintz, Brown University


At our meeting on Wednesday (11/4) we welcomed a new member to the group. Hema Roychowdhury teaches physics with Gerry Gagnon at Newton South High School. Along with Hema and Gerry, Mike Wadness and Catherine Newman (Medford High School), Chris Perkins (Wheeler School), and George Odell (North Andover High School) and Rick Dower rounded out the attendees list.

  Hema showed an interesting block on block friction problem that exhibited a sort of hysteresis behavior with the resulting motion depending on whether force was applied that increased from zero or decreased from a high value. This provoked an interesting conversation on visualization techniques that various teachers used to help their students conceptualize friction and the non-rigid behavior of materials.

 Conversation about the Baseball Lab at Mass Lowell prompted Hema to recommend high speed camera YouTube videos from Time Warp on bat-ball collisions and billiard ball collisions, which we watched.

Others recommended the Myth Busters episode on bullets simultaneously dropped and fired horizontally.

Mike Wadness showed his collection of 1-minute videos made by students to advocate their Masterclass experience.

George Odell sung the praises of the book 30-second Quantum Theory.

Then we did some experimental work with the Perimeter Institute (PI) LED apparatus for finding the value of Planck’s constant.

One set of apparatus with a lab guide is available from PI for about $20 Canadian or a set of 8 kits with a lab guide for about $200 Canadian.

Chris Perkins offered an interesting modification of the experimental process by using a Vernier spectrophotometer to measure the actual peak wavelength of each LED (which may differ by 5 - 6 nm from the nominal values) and a microscope focused on the LED to get a better read on voltage at which it turns on (or off). 



 At our meeting on Wednesday (1/27) we welcomed a new member to the group. Robert Moore is the new Physics teacher and Science Chariman at Roxbury Latin School. Though new to particle physics, he is a long-time physics teacher, and he is enthusiastic about joining the Boston QuarkNet group. We are happy to have him and happy that he provides his classroom for our meeting site. In addition to Robert, Hema Roychowdhury and Gerry Gagnon from Newton South High School, Mike Wadness and Catherine Newman from Medford High School, Amanda Harnden (Dedham High School), George Odell (North Andover High School), Mike Hirsh (Needham High School), and Rick Dower participated.

After conversation and snacks, Mike Wadness took us through the Masterclass Update Workshop. He walked through the schedule for the day (9:00 am – 4:00 pm on Saturday March 5 at Northeastern University) including talks to students about particle physics, a tour of a university physics lab, lunch with physicists and physics grad students, student analysis of CMS data using the updated iSpy data visualization tool, and a video conference with students from another participating QuarkNet center.

Then we practiced doing our own analysis of W and Z events with the new webgl version of the iSpy tool. The tool is very powerful and has several features that make analysis interesting.

Finally, we looked at the student activities (Rolling with Rutherford, Quark Workbench, and Calculation of the Z Mass) that teachers should lead their students through in preparation for their participation in the Masterclass. The time flew by, and we went away with enthusiasm to recruit students to attend the March Masterclass.

All the activities (and more) are available on the Orientation link at /page/masterclass-library-project-map-2016 .

Now that winter is here, it is time to think about summer. The QuarkNet Data Camp (Bootcamp) for teachers is scheduled for Sunday July 10 – Friday July 15. Travel, room, and board and a stipend for participation are paid by QuarkNet.  Many of us have been to the camp and found it to be a great opportunity to learn about particle physics and data analysis and to work with teachers from around the USA. Amanda is applying again for the CERN HST program through QuarkNet. She wasn’t chosen last year, but as a consolation she was sponsored to attend a one-week science and arts teacher workshop in Greece. We all sympathized with her hardship at having to spend a week on the Mediterranean during the summer.



At our May 25th meeting Mike Wadness, George Odell, and Rick Dower spent an enjoyable couple of hours talking physics and physics teaching. Rick set up a home-made interferometer demo adapted from instructions on the LIGO e-Lab web site. We could see interference fringes and note the instrument’s sensitivity by watching the fringe pattern shift at the slightest touch on the instrument’s base or even on the table that the instrument rested upon.

Next, Rick described the early history of x-ray experiments and described efforts about 100 years ago to characterize x-rays as particles or waves. The wave properties were demonstrated in 1912 by Max von Laue (Nobel Prize in 1914) and his students W. Friedrich and P. Knipping with photographs of diffraction spots produced in response to x-rays impinging on the regular arrangement of atoms in a copper sulfate crystal. William Bragg and Lawrence Bragg (joint Nobel Prize in 1915) developed an x-ray spectrometer that used a crystal to measure x-ray wavelengths. They began using it to determine the crystal structure and atomic spacing of a variety of materials. Henry Moseley in 1914 used such a spectrometer to measure the wavelengths of characteristic secondary x-rays given by samples of various elements. His measurements allowed the identification of the atomic number of the elements. Moseley’s data was shown to fit into the scheme of atomic structure proposed by Niels Bohr (1912-1913, Nobel Prize in 1922). Student and teacher versions of a worksheet that leads a student through the development of Bohr’s theory are available from Rick Dower.

Finally, Mike showed his students’ classroom work with his CRMD measuring the time-of-flight of cosmic ray muons. The data is available on the Cosmic Ray e-Lab web site. The results highlight the need for relativistic considerations for muons traveling at near light speed. Mike says the Tutorial on the time-of-flight study is a particularly good resource on the web site.

We hope for a good turn-out at our summer Workshop August 8-11. We will look at the first 100 years of particle physics in some detail and help Amanda Herndon assemble a cosmic ray detector for use in her classroom.


August 8-11, 2016 Boston QuarkNet Summer Workshop

 On August 8-10 Amanda Harnden, Mike Wadness, Pat Corcoran, Gerry Gagnon, Mike Hirsh, and Rick Dower gathered at Roxbury Latin School for our Summer Workshop. On August 9, Catherine Newman and Henry, the newest addition to her family, joined us. Much oohing and ahhing over Henry did not distract us too much from our focus on experimental exercises related to early particle physics. The Workshop title was “The First 100 Years of Particle Physics.” We managed to make it through the first 80 years  (1895 – 1975). Activities included determining Avogadro’s’ number from measurements on halite (NaCl) crystals), determining the helical pitch and radius of a retractable pen coil spring and determining the pitch length and radius of the double helix in a DNA strand from measurements of Rosalind Franklin’s x-ray diffraction photo, measuring electron mass with an electron beam tube, measuring absorption of radioactivity from a piece of uranium ore to demonstrate the existence of beta and gamma radiation, analyzing data from beta spectrometer measurements to plot the energy spectrum of electrons from the beta decay of Tl-204 and Sr-90. We also had presentations by Rick Dower on the history of neutron discovery by James Chadwick and the development of the cyclotron by Ernest Lawrence. Analysis of bubble chamber photos yielded the mass and mean lifetime of the S- particle and the mass and strangeness of the W- particle. On 8/10 we examined the history of the 1974 November Revolution in which the J/Y particle discovery was announced and its significance as a charm-anticharm meson solidified the understanding of the quark structure of hadrons.

At the conclusion of each of the first three days of the workshop, we worked on assembling the scintillator paddles for Amanda’s cosmic ray detector. On the final day (8/11), we were joined by Tammy Kjonaas and Scott Saltman and all joined in to help finish the construction, download the EQUIP software, and help Amanda get her detector up and running.

A good time was had by all participants.


Other Activities

In addition to attending our regular meetings, several Boston members engaged in a various other QuarkNet activities. Several teachers brought students to the Masterclass at Northeastern in March. Hema attended the 2016 Fermilab Data Camp at which Gerry was a Fellow. Mike Wadness attended the annual Virtual Center meeting, held this year at Fermilab in August. George Odell and Rick spread the QuarkNet gospel at the Massachusetts Teachers Association meeting at UMass Amherst in a workshop in August. Rick attended summer workshops at Cincinnati, Johns Hopkins, and Pennsylvania. He conducted a LIGO e-Lab workshop at Oklahoma State in June and assisted in the CMS e-Lab and Minerva data reviews at Fermilab in August.


Respectfully submitted,

Rick D