Liberty seniors detect cosmic rays, prepare for future

Anna Malesis

During the first week of August four seniors attended a Quarknet workshop at the University of Washington for local high school students. At the program, a variety of professionals taught them how to build and use cosmic ray detectors.

Quarknet is a government funded program that aims to get students involved in classroom science investigations by getting scientists and teachers working together. Honors Physics teacher Mark Buchli invited seniors Rachel Wittenberg, Jeremy Stroming, Megan Larson, and Yen Lee to work on the cosmic ray investigation, one of the several projects run by the organization.

“Mr. Buchli was really cool in letting us tackle that opportunity,” Wittenberg said. “It was really important to get that kind of real-world experience, actually detecting real things.”

When cosmic rays, high energy particles released by supernovae or other interstellar bodies, hit the atmosphere, a shower of additional particles is created. One type of particle, called a muon, lasts long enough to hit the ground and be detected by scientists.

At the workshop, the students built large paddle-shaped detectors, called counters, which would trap particles and force them through a photomultiplier tube, sending a signal to their computers. They can then upload their data to the Quarknet website, which provides tools to perform different analyses and experiments.

“It actually gives me a chance to see what it is like to do actual scientific research, which is something at the undergraduate level I would be interested in continuing,” Stroming said.

Stroming continues to use the detectors in experiments, with a whole period dedicated to his research.

“There are millions of students around the country who are all taking AP classes, getting high SAT scores, and following the same path through their high school career,” Stroming said. “But it is another advantage of the eight-period schedule that I have, to be able to do something on the side like this. It would be an advantage in admissions just because I can demonstrate a passion beyond just the uniform, perfect student.”