Boston QuarkNet Center 2016-2017 Annual Report

2016-2017Boston QuarkNet Center Annual Report


November 29, 2016

  We held our usual fall meeting at 5:00 pm 11/29/2016 in the Physics Lab at Roxbury Latin School. In attendance along with our two Northeastern mentors Darien Wood and George Alverson were Amanda Harnden from Dedham H. S., new mom Catherine Newman and Mike Wadness from Medford H. S., Hema Roychowdhry and Gerry Gagnon from Newton South H. S., Ayp Awobode from Boston public schools, Mike Hirsh from Needham H. S., and Rick Dower, as host.

   With some hot cider and snacks to ward off hunger and thirst on a chilly night, we enjoyed our usual pleasant conversation about physics and school teaching. Then Rick gave a talk on the evolving standards for truth that resulted from the Scientific Revolution (1500 – 1800). After outlining the changes in thinking and measuring in astronomy from Copernicus to Newton, Rick stressed the importance of Newton’s Rules for Reasoning in Philosophy at the beginning of Book 3 of the Principia and the influence that Newtonian thinking had of the Enlightenment in Europe and on Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and their writing of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and Massachusetts Constitution (1780), respectively. The Massachusetts Constitution became a model for the U. S. Constitution (1787). The idea that the U. S. is an experiment in self-government and that the Constitution is based on considerations of discerned patterns in human nature and previous forms of government is evident in The Federalist Papers by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay. The analogy to the successful effort to discern patterns in the natural world by observation and experiment is clear. Further consideration of that theme can be found in The Science of Liberty by Timothy Ferris.

February 2, 2017

  Our winter meeting to prepare for the Particle Physics Masterclass exercise was held in the Roxbury Latin Physics Lab  at 5:00 pm on Thursday 2/2/2017.IN addition to Mike Wadness, Robert Moore and Rick Dower, Kec Cecire from QuarkNet Central joined us to go over the nuances of the changes in the iSpy Web-GL event display and the CIMA data table to be used in the Masterclass. As special guests, courtesy of Vidyo, we had Tammy Kjonaas in Providence along with Dave Trapp and Prof. Shih-Chieh Hsu in Washington State.

  After our usual opening snacks and convivial conversation, Ken showed us the current versions of iSpy-test and CIMA-test. He downloaded the Masterclass samples.ig event files and showed how positioning the cursor in the vicinity of a track (electron, muon or reconstructed photon) until it turns gray and clicking prompts iSpy to display a list of parameters associated with the track. If two electron tracks (+ and -)  or two muon tracks (+ and -) in a row are “shift”-clicked, iSpy calculates the invariant mass that would produce the two tracks. That invariant mass can then be added to the CIMA event table and the associated histogram of mass values for neutral particles.

  It should be noted that the Masterclass versions of iSpy and CIMA will not be finalized until the end of February. Ken took note of a few suggestions for changes that came up at our meeting. When Ken and Rick Dower participated in a similar Masterclass update with Prof. Morris Swartz and Jeremy Smith of the Johns Hopkins center on February 11, there were some additional suggestions noted. At that time Morris discussed the difference in iSpy between the “Missing Et (PF)” and “Missing Et (Recon)” dashed purple lines on the event display.  Apparently, the “Recon” reconstruction is the quicker preliminary version, while the “PF” reconstruction results from the more meticulous particle flow algorithm and is more reliable.

  The test versions of iSpy and CIMA are listed as links on the page:

    Now is the time to get your students interested in and prepared for the Masterclass. Plan time for them to participate in the preliminary activities on the QuarkNet Masterclass website ( : Rolling with Rutherford, Quark Workbench, and Mass Calc: Z (or Top Quark Mass).

  This year’s Masterclass will be held at Northeastern University on April 1, 2017. More details will follow after Mike Wadness puts out a call within a few weeks for teachers who are interested in bringing (or sending) students to the event.

April 1, 2017

  This year’s April Fool’s Day rain and snow did not stop the intrepid Particle Physics Masterclass participants. Under the leadership of Darien Wood and George Alverson of Northeastern and Mike Wadness of Medford H. S., we got under way at 9 am at the Dana Research Center at Northeastern.  We had 21 high school students from Medford H. S., Newton South H. S., Wheeler School  (Providence, RI), North Andover H. S., and Roxbury Latin School (Boston), as well as the parent for the North Andover student and teachers Hema Roychowdhury, Tammy Kjonaas, Mike Wadness, and Rick Dower.

  After demonstrations of alpha and cosmic ray particle tracks in a cloud chamber and magnetic bending of an electron beam in a cathode ray tube, adults and students introduced themselves. Then Darien gave a talk about particle physics, CERN, the LHC, and the CMS detector. Mike walked us through the Masterclass data analysis process before lunch. After lunch at the Northeastern Student Center with physicists, the students were split into two groups: one to take a tour of a biophysics lab and the other to start the CMS particle event analysis task. After the first group finished its tour, the groups switched activities. When the second group returned from its tour, all the students working in pairs from different schools started analyzing CMS events in earnest.  Pairs were able to categorize about 70 to more than 100 events before we had to conclude that exercise and look at the whole group data in anticipation of our video conference with students from Minnesota, Quito, Ecuador, and Bogota, Columbia. The neutral particle mass histogram of our student data showed clear peaks at the expected masses for the J/Psi, Upsilon, Z, and Higgs particles with relatively little background confusion. In spite of some technical difficulties with our video and audio equipment, the conference went well with Q&A among the various groups and the Moderators at Fermilab.

  We wrapped up after shortly 5 pm, and the students, teachers, and event organizers went home happy after another informative and enjoyable learning experience.

May 30, 2017

  Our spring meeting was held at 5:00 pm in the Physics Lab at Roxbury Latin School. Tammy Kjonaas (car trouble) and Mike Wadness (child care) sent her regrets. Amanda Harnden, Robert Moore, George Odell, Gerry Gagnon, Mike Hirsh, and Rick Dower attended.

  After preliminary snacks and conversation, Rick distributed a pretest and a handout with resources on dark matter. Then he showed Philip Morrison’s show “Doubt”, which is episode 6 of his Ring of Truth series. It follows the efforts of astronomers to determine the composition of the universe from the late 1800s to the present. After some conversation about the “Doubt” video, Rick showed a video called Introduction to Dark Matter produced by the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, CA. This video brings the consideration of dark matter more up to date with considerations of changing our gravity theory as well as hunting for dark matter WIMPs. An additional resource on dark matter that features researchers searching for dark matter in an astronomical context and in a particle physics context is available in the Annenberg Learner Physics for the 21st Century Unit 10. Details for obtaining all these resources are listed below.

The Glass Universe, Dava Sobel, Viking, New York, 2016
Cecelia Payne and abundances of elements in stars

  1. The Ring of Truth – 6 Doubt, ( )
    Philip Morrison, MIT professor
  2. Activity 1: Dark Matter in a Galaxy
    Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (Waterloo, Ontario, CA)
    This activity, related video, and other material can be obtained for free from PI via the internet. Go to -> Outreach ->
    For Teachers -> In-Class Kits -> Mystery of Dark Matter ->
    Educational Resources -> create and account and Log In then -> Go To PI Store -> Individual Lesson Plans – Topic -> Astronomy -> The Mystery of Dark Matter -> Add to Cart -> etc.
  3. Introduction to Dark Matter  - PI video from the Dark Matter kit.
  4. Annenberg Learner -  - Physics for the 21st Century
    Unit 10 Dark Matter - Fritz Zwicky (1933)  Coma Cluster and the Virial Theorem, Vera Rubin, modern efforts to find evidence for dark matter particles (WIMPS, Axions)

  Finally, we decided to hold a summer workshop on August 9-10 (Wednesday – Thursday) at Roxbury Latin. I am happy to say that the Physics Lab will be available on those dates, and I have reserved the room for us. Ideas for the workshop include cosmic ray detector work (Mike Hirsh), experiments with modern physics and other lab apparatus (Gerry Gagnon), and working with data for Hubble’s Law and dark energy (Rick Dower).

  We wrapped up about 8 pm after another stimulating evening of physics.

August 9, 10

  Our summer workshop this year examined the topic of dark energy. Amanda Harnden, Nicole Preiser, Scott Carlson, Mike Hirsh, George Odell, and Mike Wadness joined Rick Dower for all or some of a two-day investigation of astronomy and the evidence that led to the idea of dark energy. On 8/9 Rick introduced the participants to an exercise on stellar spectral classification (O_B_A_F_G_K_M), and they got to try their judgment on several spectral smudges. After Rick’s presentation on black-body radiation and the relation between stellar temperature, luminosity, and size, participants plotted lines of constant radius on bolometric magnitude vs. temperature plots for the 100 nearest and 100 brightest stars. As a result, they could identify stars that were red giants at 100 times the radius of the Sun and stars that were white dwarves at 0.01 times the radius of the Sun.

  After a convivial lunch at Deno’s, and an introduction to standard stars and supernovae, half the participants plotted light curves for RRLyr variable stars in the globular cluster M15. The other half measured the expansion rate of the Crab Nebula supernova remnant to determine its explosion date and distance. Then each group presented their results for discussion before we adjourned for the day.

  On 8/10 Rick started the day with a presentation on the Great Debate in 1920 between Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis on the location of the Sun in the Milky Way, the Milky Way size, and the distance to the spiral nebula. The group was again divided in half to work on lab exercises. One half plotted the position of globular clusters in the Galaxy and saw evidence for the off-center position of the Sun in the Milky Way. The other half examined Cepheid variable light curves to find Leavitt’s Law – the period-luminosity relation that allowed Edwin Hubble to measure the distance to the Andromeda Nebula and argue that it was a separate Galaxy in the 1920s and propose Hubble’s Law for the expansion of the universe in 1929.

  After another lunch at Deno’s, we plotted the red shift vs. distance (determined from galaxy size measurements) for several galaxies to determine the constant in Hubble’s Law. Then we plotted red shift vs. brightness of Type 1a supernovae data from Saul Perlmutter’s group that led to  a Nobel Prize in 2011. From that we saw the evidence for accelerating expansion of the universe accounted for by the idea of dark energy to produce that acceleration. It was a busy and satisfying two days. We look forward to getting together again in the late fall.