U Penn QuarkNet Program

This year we were fortunate enough to have our two High School teachers,  Mark Baron and Steve Polgar back with us again who are instrumental in keeping the program organized and maintaining an even day to day flow in our six week program for the selected four (of 16 applicant) student researchers.  We started on June 26 and ended on July 31st.    Before the program officially started at the end of May we sent each student a copy of  The Particle Odyssey by Frank Close  to give them a background in the beginnings of experimental sub-atomic physics and also sent links to several references on  FPGA programming, a suggestion made by  the 2014 Quarknet group to help prepare them for the upcoming work on a cosmic ray tracking tower  based on a plastic scintillator trigger and multi-plane Proportional Drift Tube (PDT) array used to provide position data for detected tracks.  As usual the students arrived to find a box of parts and no instruction booklet.   Most of the tubes are prewired and the front end electronics consists of ASDQ cards re-cycled from the FNAL CDF open tracker.   The outputs of the ASDQ cards are sent to a transceiver that translates the differential discriminator outputs from the ASDQ to logic signals sent to a readout FPGA for time of arrival determination and subsequent transfer on to a Raspberry pi computer. As they were constructing the tower and validating the performance of the sensors we provided lectures on sensor signal processing as well as introducing them to physics research underway at Penn through seminars given by professors, post docs and grad students.   Once again this immersion research experience was well received our students who, by the end of the program were very close to being able to reconstruct tracks from the cosmic ray triggered PDT hits.  This year’s group added LEDs to the FPGA board that were programmed to turn on when a scintillator coincidence was sensed.  They were successful in transmitting PDT data from the FPGA to the Raspberry pi microcomputer that they programmed to perform the track fitting.  In their own assessment the only reason that they didn’t get to use their track fitting programs on real data was that they decided to start from scratch on the FPGA programming and it took longer than they counted on. In the last week of the program we took a one day trip to Brookhaven National Lab for a tour and met with the QuarkNet students at BNL being mentored by Helio Takai’s group.   While at BNL our students took an interest in the long term cosmic ray rate logging experiment being undertaken by the BNL group.   We had some discussion about starting a similar effort at Penn but it was close enough to the end of the program that we didn’t really get very far with the idea.   

D. Rostovtsev in the first paragraph of his abstract about his QuarkNet experience summed up his experience as follows:

“For me, QuarkNet was a series of firsts.  First time learning about cosmic rays, first time using an FPGA, first time using a Raspberry Pi, first time soldering with a microscope, first time seeing scintillators and drift tubes and first time sitting in on lectures in a lecture hall.  Also, being a sophomore, it was my first paycheck, first nine to five and first debit card.”


Mitch Newcomer