Local High School Students to Perform University-level Particle Physics Research

Forty students will participate in the International Masterclass at UC Riverside, March 11-12

Photo shows people looking into a computer screen.

Bill Gary (in gray shirt) is a professor of physics at UC Riverside and the lead organizer of Masterclass on campus. Others in the photo, taken in the 2012 Masterclass, are students from San Jacinto High School and their science teacher.Photo credit: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — One way universities reach out to high school students is by engaging them in hands-on exercises that boost their interest in university-level research.  That is the strategy the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Riverside has used in past years to generate more excitement over physics in the local region’s youth.

Now, for the sixth year in a row, UC Riverside will host the International Particle Physics Masterclass, in which visiting high school students are introduced — through lectures and exercises — to particle physics, experiments and detectors.

The Masterclass, an annual program of the European Particle Physics Outreach Group, will take place on March 11 and 12 in the Physics Building and Rivera Library on campus. An interactive exercise in which high school students analyze specific particle physics data, the Masterclass offers the students not only rigorous coaching from expert particle physicists, but also a unique opportunity to work with peers far from home.

This year, 25 students from San Jacinto High School and 15 students from Riverside Preparatory School will participate in the Masterclass at UCR.  On March 11, lectures will take place in Room 3035 in the Physics Building and exercises in the Rivera Library; a 60-minute videoconference between the visiting students and groups of high school students in Italy, Germany and France will take place at 8 a.m. on March 12 in Room 3035 in the Physics Building.

Photo shows Masterclass students engaging in a videoconference.

Masterclass participants in 2012 engage in a videoconference with their European counterparts.Photo credit: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside.

During the videoconference, the local high school students will compare their results from their previous day’s experiments with those obtained by the European students, all of whom will have performed the same set of exercises.

“This year, for the first time, actual data from Higgs boson decays will be buried in the event samples the students will examine,” said Bill Gary, a professor of physics and the lead organizer of the Masterclass at UC Riverside. “Part of the exercise will be for them to try to identify candidate events in which a Higgs boson decays either into two photons or else into two Z bosons, where each Z either decays into a pair of electrons or a pair of muons.  The students will be more challenged in the exercises than in previous years.”

The exercises will be entirely based on data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, where the Higgs boson was discovered last summer. Discovery of the Higgs boson, a decades-long goal of particle physics, was named by the journal Science as the scientific breakthrough of 2012.

In their exercises, the students will use characteristic decay signatures to identify Higgs bosons and Z particles.  They will learn how to collect event candidates without biasing the results, and how similar signatures are used to search for new particles at the LHC.

“The Masterclass is a big success because of the exceptional impact it has on the students,” Gary said. “For the most part, they have not visited a university campus before, and they have never interacted with professional scientists.”

Gary explained that bringing the high school students to UCR shows them that the university is filled with people just like them, that they can understand and participate in forefront science, and that science is a profession they might aspire to.

“They really enjoy the international aspect of the Masterclass, and the videoconference with the kids from Europe is a big hit,” he said. “The students are incredibly enthusiastic about the program, and we have had more than one student subsequently enroll at UCR to study physics as a result of the Masterclass program. We look forward to growing the program yet more and reaching out to more schools.”

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-6050
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Additional Contacts

Bill Gary
Tel: (951) 827-5329
E-mail: bill.gary@ucr.edu

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