Written By: Binit Shrestha, Kin Mo Chau, and Shahrayz Shah
While the students of Medford High School were all sleeping on a Wednesday night, some of Dr. Wadness’s AP Physics Class were representing the whole Eastern Hemisphere in an online world video conference regarding particle physics. This conference was held at 12:30 AM Eastern Standard Time and was hosted by Fermilab, a national laboratory determined to inspire people to explore the depths of particle physics. Fermilab had asked several teachers to participate; however, only Dr. Michael Wadness of Medford High School was able to organize some of his AP Physics students (Binit Shrestha, Kin Mo Chau, Shahrayz Shah, Victor Oliveira, Nathanael Victor, Emma Zec, Connor McGovern and Gabe Hollings) into meeting up on a Wednesday night and learning more about particle physics.
Even though science has advanced a great amount so far from the age of Newton, there are still infinite questions regarding energy, space, matter, and time that scientists are still trying to find the solutions to. In order to understand these mysteries, physicists have been extensively researching particle physics. In this specific field of physics, scientists focus on the occurrence and formation of subatomic particles such as photons and neutrinos to help learn more about the universe. Actually this year, the Nobel Prize in Science was given to a study for particle physics and what the students did was a small taste of what the particle physicists do at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva.
The night began at around 8:30 PM when the students arrived to Emma’s house. Dr. Wadness wasted no time and gave a presentation that consisted of what particle physics is, a general overview of the different quarks, the background information of particle accelerators, and most importantly, how to identify and differentiate each track. This allowed all the students to be on the same level as they were given a hardier task. The students were split into groups of two and prepared for the upcoming conference with “Hypatia”, a program that allowed them to view and record the data. The groups had to identify 100 real data sets from the particle accelerator detector, Atlas, from the LHC. “The data could have shown muons, electrons, or photons. Some didn’t even make sense to us because either the energy level was too high, or the tracks didn’t show a regular pattern that Dr. Wadness showed us. We had to decide on our own sometimes because we just couldn’t tell”, says Kin Chau. At approximately 12 AM, all of the data had been compiled to create a huge database with participants from cities in Australia such as Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide. During the video conference, the students from the globe pointed out any irregularities in their data and began questioning what the data actually was suggesting. Did they really discover a Z-prime-particle? Or did their data show any Higgs? They could not make any conclusions, however this inconclusiveness is very common in the mysterious field of particle physics.
Students at Medford High, every day, learn about the accomplishments and discoveries of other people. In their history classes, they learn about what has already happened. In their science classes, they learn what has already been established. What about learning something that has not been discovered or established before? What about learning something that is happening now instead of already happened. The experience of being able to analyze real data that was collected only a few years ago in relatively new field of science showed the AP Physics students what it is like to learn about what is happening now, in the now. Instead of reading something out of a textbook, they helped analyze data that will be used for the textbooks of future generations. They were part of the public outreach of Nobel Prize winning scientists and communicated with students from around the world. It was a remarkable and breathtaking experience. It is not often that students can say what Dr. Wadness’s AP Physics students can say they have done. Hopefully this opportunity was just one of many more to come for Medford High Students.