MARIACHI. ELI Paper 6: By Carie Windham. Edited by Diana Oblinger. July 2007

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1 By Carie Windham Edited by Diana Oblinger ELI Paper 6: 2007 July 2007 Abstract The Mixed Apparatus for Radar Investigation of Atmospheric Cosmic-Rays of High Ionization (MARIACHI) project is setting a new standard for authentic learning enabling students to learn by doing. Under the direction of scientists, students are building, monitoring, and analyzing data from devices that detect ultra high-energy cosmic rays in the atmosphere. They are also learning how to connect those devices to a larger cyberinfrastructure so they and the scientific community can learn more about these highly charged energy particles EDUCAUSE

2 For Helio Takai, a physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), engaging with the youngest future scientists has always been a priority. But every time he walked into a high school classroom, the questions were always the same. Where s your pocket protector? Why aren t you wearing a lab coat? Despite a steady parade of lawyers, doctors, and military personnel for guest talks and career days, most of the students he met had never even seen a scientist except on television. It was a revelation. These days, high school students in New York aren t just seeing scientists in the classroom they re becoming scientists. Using MARIACHI, the Mixed Apparatus for Radar Investigation of Atmospheric Cosmic-Rays of High Ionization, students are building devices to detect cosmic rays in the atmosphere. Under the direction of scientists, students learn how to connect those devices to a larger cyberinfrastructure so that they, and the scientific community, can get closer to understanding the origin and structure of these highly charged energy particles in the atmosphere. They ll also be learning how to collect and analyze the data that their detectors are collecting. The devices themselves are a breakthrough, using VHF transmitters and bistatic radar to search for cosmic rays. Traditionally, scientists have used ground detectors to collect data when high-energy cosmic rays collide with atoms in the upper layers of the atmosphere and shower down secondary particles. Alternatively, they ve used detectors mounted on the International Space Station or atmospheric balloons. Beyond sheer mechanical innovation, however, the MARIACHI approach is changing the way scholars and students interact and is setting a new standard for authentic learning. What is it? When scientists began to think about the project that would eventually become MARIACHI, they didn t start with a need to study ultra high-energy cosmic rays (UHECR). They started, instead, with the classroom. Researchers wanted to find a way to introduce students and teachers to the complexities of grid computing and cyberinfrastructure. But to do that in a way that students would understand they knew they would need a hands-on science experiment to link it all together. UHECR, an area of high scientific priority within the research community, fit every need of the project. Because UHECR are so rare, scientists believed that their study would benefit from the largest field area possible. Placing detectors across a large geographical area would guarantee greater data recovery and reporting. But those machines, scattered miles apart, would need a central hub to collect reports from the detectors, making grid computing a priority. The MARIACHI experiment connects those detection devices with a central computer at Stony Brook University. The MARIACHI Web site (http://www-mariachi.physics.sunysb.edu/wiki/index.php/main_page), a wiki, is a portal to the data and a series of resources to help teachers discuss physics concepts with students. In later versions, students may host their own research projects within the wiki. The success of the project depends on a series of components, described below. Detector-Building Workshops The MARIACHI experiment relies on a series of detectors installed at remote locations and connected to the central hub. These detectors are constructed by high school students during 2

3 workshops led by MARIACHI physicists. Armed with soldering irons and instruction manuals, the students build their devices and connect them to the Internet. During the workshops, MARIACHI staff also explain cyberinfrastructure so that students can better understand the Internet and the possibilities of grid computing. Jack Steffens, a senior technician from Stony Brook University, explains detector construction to students from Roosevelt High School as their teacher, Mahyar Nikpour, looks on. Photo courtesy of Helio Takai. Access to Live Data The MARIACHI Web site is the project portal, allowing access to live data as they are collected. The data can be used by researchers, students, or high school teachers. Original Research Classroom involvement does not end when the detectors have been built. Students and teachers are encouraged to lead their own research projects to develop new detectors for data collection or to run original experiments using the data. During the summer, interested students and teachers can participate in a workshop with MARIACHI researchers to provide guidance for their research initiatives. The workshops combine training Participants and researchers have access to real-time data collection on the MARIACHI site. and brainstorming with hands-on experiments. Research projects and experiments are later posted on the MARIACHI wiki so that other students and teachers can access and edit the information. MARIACHI students can also post regular, blog-like updates of their work on the wiki. Examples of student-led research activities include: Clouds and Cosmic Rays: Two students from The Young Women s Leadership School in East Harlem investigated the links between cosmic rays and cloud coverage. By studying the flow rate of cosmic rays three times a day for 20 days and capturing high- 3

4 resolution still images of cloud coverage each day, the students determined that there was no statistical link between cosmic ray rate and cloud coverage. Lightning and Cosmic Rays: To search for the cause behind lightning strikes and to help validate the hypothesis that cosmic rays trigger lightning, a Mepham High School student used a MARIACHI detector to detect cosmic ray particles and a radio receiver and an electric field monitor to detect lightning and search for concurrent events. Class Activities The wiki stores ideas for in-class activities using MARIACHI data. There are guides explaining how to import and analyze data and links to outside sources such as weather reporting sites. Individual wiki pages give step-by-step instructions for determining the number of cosmic ray events per hour or day and instructions for correlating cosmic ray events with local weather. Experiment and Demonstration Database Because MARIACHI participants are encouraged to develop their own experiments and demonstrations, the wiki also offers a page with suggestions for in-class experiments created by other teachers and students. One experiment stages a radioactive decay race between soda and beer, with the liquids bubbles representing nuclei decaying. In another experiment, students listen to the sounds of popcorn kernels exploding in microwave popcorn to learn about statistics. On this experiment page, students and teachers use pretzels to construct an electroscope. Courses MARIACHI offers teachers and students a series of short courses meant to introduce participants to key physics concepts and share a basic understanding of cosmic rays. Course Web pages are maintained on the MARIACHI wiki, giving users the opportunity to view assignments and access course resources. Other courses show high school teachers new ways to leverage MARIACHI in the classroom and to teach hands-on science. 4

5 Teacher Wiki Instructors can also access a private wiki for teachers, which provides information about physics field trips, do-it-yourself equipment, classroom management, professional development courses, and grade-by-grade resource lists. The site also includes places where teachers can post lab ideas and ways to use whiteboards effectively. Because the page is structured as a wiki, individual teachers can post their own ideas, and other users can add to or change the text. In addition, links are included to portals for chemistry, biology, astronomy, and earth science. The teacher s wiki stores tools for classroom management, professional development, and classroom teaching. Who uses it? Outside the central team of researchers who contribute to the project, the MARIACHI community stretches 70 miles from Long Island to Manhattan and includes 13 high schools, the Young Women s Leadership School, Stony Brook University, and Suffolk County Community College. K 12 Teachers: For high school teachers, MARIACHI is a tool and a resource. As a tool, MARIACHI brings hands-on science into the classroom by showing teachers and students how to build and maintain the detectors. Teachers can also learn new ways to leverage MARIACHI technology by exploring the teacher wiki. MARIACHI is also a resource for physics teachers, compiling best practices and offering workshops to show teachers new ways to create hands-on science opportunities. K 12 Students: High school students are the force behind MARIACHI. The first detectors were built by high school students at BNL in When the detectors were later transferred to high school sites for installation, students helped install and connect the electronic components. Today, students build and maintain the detectors, brainstorm new sensors and experiments, and use MARIACHI data for their own research and experiments. In their own classrooms, students might be involved in the physical construction of the devices, or they might participate in group projects to build new detectors. On their own, they might surf the MARIACHI site for research ideas or to read 5

6 background information about cosmic rays and other physics concepts. Throughout the process, they can attend workshops at BNL to learn more about cosmic rays or MARIACHI mechanics, or they might participate in MARIACHI meetings and workshops through videoconferencing. College Students: Currently, college students help maintain the server and cyberinfrastructure for the project, but administrators hope to involve undergraduate and graduate students in a more hands-on way as universities begin to build and maintain detectors on site. Students at Stony Brook University will also be able to enroll in Cosmic Rays: An Introduction to Experimental Research in fall The course, which builds on MARIACHI technology to offer a primer in cosmic rays, is modeled after minicourses developed for members of WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) at Stony Brook. Researchers: As more detection sites come online and data collection increases, MARIACHI will become a central hub for physicists to test radar detection and to learn more about the formation and composition of cosmic rays. Researchers can access data through the site and share their results on the MARIACHI wiki. Researchers are also involved in maintaining detectors at Stony Brook, BNL, and Suffolk County Community College. How does it work? Understanding the experiment at the center of the MARIACHI project is as easy as imagining a central train station in a busy city. Just as the rails carry passengers from remote towns to the main station, remote detectors, radar stations, and sensors built across Long Island use grid technology to feed data to a central server at Stony Brook University. Participating high schools host the MARIACHI team in the classroom, and scientists spend anywhere from half to three-quarters of a day teaching the students how to build the detectors. The workshop includes instructions on how to maintain the sensors and connect them to a computer, which is the entry point for data to be collected. Jack Steffens, a senior technician from Stony Brook University, helps install detectors at Brentwood High School. Photo courtesy of Helio Takai. Each high school builds five detectors, one in each corner of the classroom, with an additional detector in one corner, that feed into a central electronics circuit. If the detectors report that a shower has occurred, the apparatus uses a GPS clock to time-stamp the event and report that data to the central server. MARIACHI users can log into the MARIACHI site at any hour to view live reports and search for active sites. Participation depends on the school and the needs of the teacher. In the construction phase, some MARIACHI teachers have allowed a handful of students to participate after school or during the summer. Others have conducted in-class workshops using smaller Advanced Placement physics classes. As the detectors come online, teachers say they ll have more leverage to involve entire classes in data collection. 6

7 As a wiki, MARIACHI provides a portal for researchers to obtain data, a resource for teachers and students to learn more, and a forum for participants to share information or discuss problems and solutions. On the central MARIACHI page, users can access news, learn about new developments, check an events calendar for upcoming workshops, or follow links to pages explaining the project. Authenticated users can edit the page, making timely and simple updates, and students, teachers, and researchers can post their findings and comment on others postings. The central page also links to the teacher s wiki, and users can also track changes to the site The MARIACHI home page. by clicking on a history tab. Why does it work? Because MARIACHI is still in its early stages, no formal assessment data are available. Anecdotally, however, researchers say that teachers and students have enthusiastically endorsed the project, embracing the opportunity to perform real science under the direction of leading physicists. They cite the project s hands-on design and opportunities for collaboration as keys to the project s success. Hands-On Learning becomes fun when students drop their books and learn the components of radar detection by putting the pieces together. Tom Tomaszewski, a physics teacher at Shoreham- Wading River High School, jumped at the opportunity to give students a hands-on opportunity. As an educator, I m always looking for more exciting things to bring into the classroom to get more kids involved, he says. [The construction] wasn t difficult at all. It was exciting for them. These kids had never done any kind of soldering before. He says that MARIACHI brings real, hands-on work to a generation that learns from hands-on activities. Authentic Students aren t just learning physics as they assemble and connect the detectors they are becoming scientists, learning how to collect and analyze data, troubleshoot mechanical malfunctions, and pitch their own hypotheses. Deeper Exploration Working on the MARIACHI project draws students into a highly specialized field of science to dig deeply into the study of cosmic rays, typically a small unit in the high school curriculum, if discussed at all. 7

8 Kid-Friendly Researchers spent four years refining the detector s design. When they finished, they had a product that not only worked but also broke down into easy-to-assemble pieces so that students could easily construct the devices under the supervision of a scientist. The MARIACHI Web site also breaks the science down so that students and teachers can better understand the complexities of UHECR. The experiments, for example, teach highly specific science concepts using kid-friendly tools like popcorn, Webcams, pretzels, and Thermos bottles. Students and teachers, like Sachem East High School teacher Rich Gearns, work together to construct detectors at a MARIACHI workshop. Photo courtesy of Helio Takai. Collaborative At summer workshops and courses, teachers and students are encouraged to come together to learn more about physics and cosmic rays. Mahyar Nikpour, a teacher at Roosevelt High School, says that students enjoyed the opportunity to interact with their peers from other schools and to have the chance to talk to scientists, college students, and university professors. Because it is a wiki, the MARIACHI site facilitates collaboration as users manipulate text, share successful experiments, publish research results, and seek help with research projects. Creative MARIACHI was built on the idea that students could be scientific pioneers, and the project is set up to encourage student exploration. Brainstorming workshops encourage students to devise personal research projects and generate new designs. When researchers need new machines, they take those needs to the students themselves to ask for help. Adaptive Students aren t just participants they are critics. Along the way, Takai says that students and teachers have been quite vocal about their needs and any problems with the workshops 8

9 or learning materials. Program administrators have responded to their criticisms, tweaking the program and the curriculum to reflect what teachers wanted to see in the classroom. What is the value? First discovered in 1912, cosmic rays are the particles released during cosmological events, such as star explosions. The matter, which is very energetic by the time it reaches Earth s atmosphere, remains mysterious to scientists. No one is quite sure where the matter originates or where it acquires energy. Scientists do believe, however, that a better understanding of UHECR may lead to a deeper understanding of the way the universe works. MARIACHI offers a real opportunity for tangible breakthroughs in this field. Mechanically, MARIACHI detectors rely on radar technology, which is more economical and diversifiable than previous methods. Radar detection also opens the door to studying other atmospheric occurrences alongside cosmic rays, such as lightning and meteor showers. For the scientific community, MARIACHI is poised to set new standards for the study of cosmic rays, creating opportunities for new discoveries. Some of those discoveries may come from unlikely scientific minds. Kids aren t afraid to suggest some really crazy ideas, says Takai. In the classroom, MARIACHI gives students an opportunity to become scientists in a real, hands-on way. By actively constructing detectors, students learn the intricacies of radar detection. By connecting them to the server, students learn the complexities of cyberinfrastructure. As data collection begins, they will also learn how to collect, sort, and analyze data. Along the way, they will be contributing their own ideas and asking their own questions, creating potential for scientific breakthroughs that begin in high school classrooms. It s giving me the opportunity to delve further into things that we would normally just read about or investigate with standard equipment, says Tomaszewski. This is true research and experimentation, where you can play around with a lot of what ifs and try things and investigate the data set that you are collecting. The project is also about engagement. Takai s initial goal to connect high school students with scholars in the field remains paramount in the process. By conducting workshops in the classroom, students work alongside scientists, learning more about the profession, potentially generating early enthusiasm for studying the hard sciences. Stereotypes are broken down as the students themselves become researchers. For professionals, it s an opportunity to bring very detailed scientific concepts to a new audience and connect with the larger community. As undergraduate and graduate students become part of the process, they will be required to work with the high school students, creating a culture of engagement among participants. What is required? Anyone can access the resources of the MARIACHI site. To make changes to the page or to access secure data, however, requires authentication. Individual classrooms can join the experiment by scheduling a detector-building workshop to construct and install the detectors. The classroom must have a broadband connection to access the MARIACHI hub. As soon as the detectors are installed, teachers and students can initiate experiments and collaborate with their peers at summer workshops. Once projects are brought online, data analysis relies on grid computing, provided by the Open Science Grid (OSG), a distributed computing infrastructure for scientific research. OSG links university and industry resources to provide users access to industry-level tools and software without regard to their physical location. A New York high school student, for 9

10 example, can submit data for computation on a machine more than 200 miles away. The distance is masked by OSG s cyberinfrastructure, which reports the results without showing the user the complex network of computers and servers that relay the data. Keeping the project online and guaranteeing the acquisition of data requires maintenance of detectors, which includes monitoring data reporting and troubleshooting problems. In the past, when detectors failed, students traveled to Stony Brook University to work with researchers to debug and repair the detectors. The project relies on a geographically dispersed network of classrooms willing to participate. To spur new construction and preserve existing detectors requires the time and commitment of MARIACHI researchers who organize detector-building workshops and work with classrooms to bring the detectors online. Where is it going? MARIACHI is still in its infancy. Next steps include researchers working to bring all high school partner sites online so they can begin transferring data to the server at Stony Brook. Once data transfer begins, scientists will begin teaching students how to analyze the data and ensure that data integrity is ensured. Researchers are also looking into ways to offer physics lessons online in podcast or online presentation form. At the center of the MARIACHI project is a real scientific need to collect data over a wide geographical region, and, according to Takai, that region is not necessarily limited to New York or even the United States. MARIACHI has begun targeting universities around the globe, many in the developing world, to become partners in the project. As with the U.S.- based parts of the MARIACHI project, international partners would erect and monitor detectors in high school locations. Moving forward relies on the cooperation of MARIACHI teachers, who provide feedback to scientists about the best ways to frame future lesson plans. Any project expansion, though, carries staffing implications. Finding new staff is not an easy task, Takai says, because MARIACHI partners must be more than physicists they must be scientists with a keen understanding of teaching and learning principles. The perfect staff member is someone with experience developing online teaching tools who can also speak and interact with high school teachers and students a combination that is difficult to find. Nevertheless, by harnessing the creativity of students and inviting them into the scientific community, MARIACHI is already setting a new standard for teaching and learning. As the project proceeds, the possibilities for more collaboration and even greater discovery are eclipsed only by the possibility for a new standard for authentic learning. Resources The MARIACHI home page, The gateway into the MARIACHI portal, where users can access information about the science behind MARIACHI and ways to teach physics in the classroom. The Teacher Wiki, https://www-mariachi.physics.sunysb.edu/teacherwiki/index.php/: A portal for MARIACHI teachers to find teaching resources on the Web. MARIACHI Live, p: An up-tothe-minute view of MARIACHI sites and who is reporting data. 10

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