High Schools Gaze
At Cosmic Rays

Jim Small and Rich Nieman will be featured at the August meeting of the Saint Louis Astronomical Society. Cosmic Rays are true space invaders. These subatomic particles, some born in explosions of supergiant stars, actually speed up as they circle the center of the Milky Way. Over the course of millions of years, the galaxy’s immense magnetic fields whip the cosmic rays to high energies and bend their paths into huge, sweeping arcs. The air protects us from direct impacts, but the invaders collide with high altitude gas molecules to form secondary cosmic rays. The secondary rays can be detected on the surface.

In the Greater St. Louis area, local educators and cosmic ray scientists are teaming up to introduce a linked grid of cosmic ray detectors to high school students through the Quarknet program. Quarknet is a national project designed to bring high school students and teachers to the frontiers of research into the structure of matter and the fundamental forces of nature. In St. Louis, a network of cosmic ray detectors will be deployed in local high schools. The data collected will be organized to allow it to be correlated with data from other locations. Such correlations, by distinguishing cosmic rays from ground radiation and instrument noise, help to identify the properties of high energy cosmic rays.

Jim Small is President of the Saint Louis Astronomical Society and a science teacher at Parkway South High School. Rich Nieman teaches at Brentwood High School. Along with seven other teachers and two undergraduate physics students, they participated in a cosmic ray workshop this summer, in preparation for the Quarknet program. An avid astronomer, Mr. Small has before used optical telescopes rather than cosmic ray detectors to probe the skies.