When Basehor-Linwood High School science teacher Molly Bovos met an Ottawa High School physics teacher at a workshop, she had no idea that meeting would lead to a cosmic ray detector being lent to the school for their indefinite use.

“He invited me to join QuarkNet, which is a teacher network supported by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science,” Bovos said. “After joining, I got to go to a workshop where we learned about cosmic rays, specifically cosmic ray muons, which are the primary particles we were researching.”

From that point, she was put on a waiting list to receive a detector and just a couple of months later, it arrived. QuarkNet wants to promote the study of modern physics, so making cosmic ray detectors available to high schools for research serves that purpose.

“A cosmic ray is any highly energized particle that is traveling through space at speeds close to the speed of light, 300 million meters per second or 670 million miles per hour,” said Bovos.

Cosmic rays are all around us and many come from the sun. The ray detector will help students learn more about heavier particles which are higher energy. Scientists don’t know much about those particles or even where they come from.

The detector is on loan from Chicago’s Fermilab and will be housed at BLHS as long as they want to use it. There are nine that are registered to Kansas teachers.

Alex Teeters, BLHS senior, is taking Modern Physics as an independent study class with Bovos. He is in the process of applying to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“He wants to study nuclear physics and the process that creates these cosmic rays is a nuclear reaction, so it is the perfect research opportunity for him,” Bovos said.

QuarkNet provides studies from other schools from around the world. This allows BLHS to compare the data they collect with other schools using the same equipment.

One study Bovos and Teeters are interested in is a time-of-flight study. They will be able to see how fast the cosmic ray muon is traveling by spacing several detectors at different heights, then calculating their time of flight from the atmosphere to Earth. While muons are very unstable particles that decay in 2.2 micro seconds, theoretically they should not make it from the atmosphere to Earth, but according to Bovos they do.

“This is one piece of evidence we have for Einstein’s theory that time slows down for objects moving at speeds close to the speed of light,” she said.

Courtesy of Leavenworth Times