2014 Annual Report - Boston

Our Boston QuarkNet Center held its usual round on school-year meetings and summer workshop in 2013-2014, as described below.

Minutes from the Meeting on 11 December 2013 at Roxbury Latin School:

On Wednesday December 11 we held our usual late fall meeting at Roxbury Latin School. Catherine Haberkorn and Mike Wadness joined us from Medford. Michael Hamblin came from Concord. Gerry Gagnon arrived from Newton South, and Mike Hirsh made the trip from Needham. Several colleagues were hindered by family and school obligations. Catherine suggested that a better time for the meeting may, perhaps be in January rather than during the holiday rush in December. That is something we should explore next winter.

Over hot cider and snacks we had wide ranging conversations about physics and physics teaching that mad the evening enjoyable. Our particular focus was on internet resources for physics teaching. Mike Hirsh brought up the Veritasium web site and showed the paradox of the spinning wooden block hit by a bullet fired at the center of mass and to one side of the center of mass – an intriguing exploration of physics intuition and insight. Mike Wadness walked us through the i2u2.org CMS e-lab site and recommended it as a follow-up for the Masterclass experience for students in March or as an investigation during the post-AP time in May and June. Mike Hamblin extolled the Creation of the Universe DVD with Timothy Ferris as a source of inspiration for students and teachers, alike. Catherine introduced us to the TED talk of Sanjay Mahajan on “Streetfighting Mathematics” in which he started with a simple demonstration of air drag and ended by estimating the relative cost of transportation per person of an automobile and a jet passenger plane – an impressive demonstration of making sense of the world from simple observations and the mathematics of relationships and dimensional analysis. Rick showed the University of Colorado site at phet.colorado.edu which contains many useful interactive physics simulations, Don Lincoln videos on youtube in which he explains a variety of particle physics topics and the Philip Morrison segments on youtube, taken from his Ring of Truth programs, which show a variety of fascinating demonstrations.

There was some discussion of sources of interesting physics problems that could be the source of class efforts. After vaguely remembering that the group at the University of Minnesota has worked on that, I Googled “context rich physics problems” (after the meeting) and up popped the sites at Minnesota that contain a great variety of such problems and instructions for creating your own.


  Finally, we ended the evening with a challenge to be explained. If, according to Faraday’s law, the voltage generated around a loop of wire depends on the rate of change of flux through the loop, then why does the output voltage of a transformer not depend on the frequency of the input voltage and only depends on the turn ratio of the primary and secondary coils? Is it a matter of the different responses of a circuit to a transient versus a steady state input? Any informative responses to this question will help Mike Hamblin refrain from tearing out any more of his hair.

Minutes from the Meeting on 26 February 2014 at Roxbury Latin School:

A chilly Wednesday night in February (2/26) was warmed by the company of Catherine Haberkorn, Chris Perkins, Ayo Awobode, Gerry Gagnon, George Odell, Mike Wadness, and Mike Hirsh along with George Alverson from Northeastern and Darwin, a video visitor from the Virtual QuarkNet group. After some hot apple cider, snacks, and conversation, Mike Wadness walked us through the teacher preparation necessary for the upcoming Particle Physics Masterclass at Northeastern (3/15).

Mike noted that some Higgs events have been added to the data set for the Masterclass.

Particle Physics Masterclass at Northeastern University on 15 March 2014

Our yearly Particle Physics Masterclass was organized by Mike Wadness and George Alverson and held at Northeastern University on 15 March 2013. About 16 students enjoyed the opportunity to become engaged in particle physics discovery.

CERN’s “Beam Line 4 Schools” Contest

Student groups supervised by Mike Wadness at Medford High School and Rick Dower at Roxbury Latin School submitted written particle physics experiment proposals and 1-minute videos to CERN to be considered in the “Beam Line 4 Schools” contest. Though they did not win, both groups greatly enjoyed the process of putting together the proposals and constructing the videos.

Minutes from the Meeting on 21 May 2014 at Roxbury Latin School:

We had a very congenial meeting last night with a picnic supper to celebrate the spring. In addition to George Alverson from Northeastern, Tom Jordan, our QuarkNet regional coordinator joined us from Northhampton. Teachers attending were Michael Hamblin, Chris Perkins, Ayo Awobode, Gerry Gagnon, Mike Wadness, Mike Hirsh, Pat Corcoran, and Rick Dower. After some initial conversation about AP exams, we talked about some of the activities we do with our classes at this time of year. Mike Wadness gives his students some practical exercises in optics. Mike Hirsh has his students build simple AM radios (no amplifiers) that easily pick up a nearby transmitter. Chris Perkins has his chemistry students pair up to develop demonstrations that they present to the rest of their class.

During conversation about relativity, Rick Dower recommended the book Einstein’s Clocks, Poincare’s Maps by Peter Galison  for its discussion of the widespread technical interest in clock synchronization in Switzerland (and the rest of the world) at the time that Einstein was developing his relativity theory. He was working at the Swiss Patent Office and reviewing patent applications for devices related to that problem in the early 1900s. Rick also demonstrated the Faraday Rotation apparatus built by Teach Spin. The effect was mentioned on the recent Cosmos show that featured the work of Michael Faraday. The 1845 discovery was the first evidence of the interaction between light, matter, and magnetism. Rick also showed the measurement of the speed (2 x 108 m/s) of electromagnetic signals in coaxial cable. The demonstration was inspired by a January 2003 article in The Physics Teacher by Se-Yuen Mak.


 Mike Wadness and Rick Dower showed the 1-minute videos made by their students as part of their “Beam Line 4 Schools” experiment proposals for the CERN contest. Mike Hirsh introduced the Veritasium experiment comparing the result of shooting a bullet into the center of a wood block and into an off-center location. The prediction and experimental observation evoked much comment. Find it on Youtube by searching for “bullet in block.”

Ayo is looking for a new physics teaching position for next year. Please let him know if you become aware of any in the area.

We have planned a two-day summer Workshop at Roxbury Latin on Wednesday and Thursday August 20-21, 9:30 am – 4:30 pm. The major topic will be working with the cosmic ray muon detectors. Several of us want more practice setting up measurements and uploading data so that we can have greater confidence when helping students use the detectors.

Minutes from the QuarkNet Workshop on 20-21 August 2014 at Roxbury Latin School:

On August 20-21 we had an enjoyable opportunity to work together getting our QuarkNet Cosmic Ray Muon Detectors (CRMD) calibrated and working. Chris Perkins brought his new physics-teaching colleague, Tammy Kjonaas, up from Providence along with the CRMD that he assembled two years ago at Wheeler School. Pat Corcoran came with the CRMD that Tom Jordan helped him and Michael Hirsh put together at Needham High this past summer. I got back to calibrating the detector that I put together at Roxbury Latin two years ago. In addition, Gerry Gagnon from Newton South and Amanda Bragan from Dedham High joined in the fun. After plateauing the detectors, we faced up to setting the threshold values for the DAQ boards.

  Thanks to Prof. Stefane Cotu at Penn State, I was able to provide software for running CRMD experiments independent of the QuarkNet analysis software that required uploading the data to the central server first. So on the second day of the workshop Chris and Tammy were able to run a measurement of cosmic ray muon speed. Pat, Amanda, Michael, and Gerry measured the muon flux from the vertical direction compared with the flux arriving at 45 degrees to vertical and the flux along the horizontal.

During the incidental conversation, Pat talked about the fun he had at the Fermilab Particle Physics Boot Camp earlier this summer. It was a pleasure to see everyone engaged and getting results from their detectors.