COD Physics Club, Benet Academy and Fermilab Team Up for Cosmic Ray Workshop

Cosmic Ray team

By Brian Kleemann

Students in College of DuPage’s Physics Club joined forces with Benet Academy high school students and the University of Chicago QuarkNet Center at Fermilab to build and use cosmic ray detectors.

During the recent Cosmic Ray Workshop, participants spent two Saturdays in February on COD’s campus in Glen Ellyn, first learning how to build and calibrate the detectors and then using them to make measurements and analyze data. Two groups used their detectors to determine the speed of the incoming particles, and the third used its detector to analyze the direction of the incoming particles.

“The particles detected are actually particles called ‘muons,’ which result when a high energy cosmic ray from outer space collides with a particle in the upper atmosphere,” said COD Physics Professor Tom Carter, who is currently a co-leader of the QuarkNet Center with Dr. Brandon Eberly of the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. “Muons travel at almost the speed of light and have the ability to pass through large amounts of material without interacting. We are constantly being bombarded by muons. One muon passes through your thumbnail every minute or so.”

QuarkNet is a national organization based at Notre Dame that encourages the use of cutting-edge physics data to teach science at the high school level. Jennifer Gimmell, Benet Academy teacher and COD part-time Physics faculty, helped facilitate the workshop and expects the two schools to form a joint detector team that will combine their data sets in the future. She also hopes more high schools are brought into the project to form an even larger detector array.

“This is an incredible opportunity for students to play a part in real science research,” she said. “It’s important to get students excited about the bigger questions in science at this age as they begin their education in science and engineering. QuarkNet provides the opportunity for students to see how topics and techniques they have already learned are directly applicable to real scientific research. That’s super exciting!

“Benet Academy is so fortunate that our local community college is eager and enthusiastic to collaborate with us. It’s a real pleasure to have several generations of people who love of physics gathered together, all asking questions, working and learning as one. Science is and always will be a collaborative field because no one gets where they are today without teamwork and camaraderie. We are honored to be working with the Physics program at College of DuPage.”  

For information about COD’s Physics program, visit or call (630) 942-2010.

College of DuPage

425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn IL, 60137

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