Back to school with
Jeremy Smith (left), a physics teacher at Hereford High School in Maryland, worked with Fermilab physicist Juan Estrada during his first summer in the DOE ACTS program. Here, Smith and Estrada test components they plan to install in a dark matter detector.
Next fall, students at Hereford High School in Baltimore County, Maryland, will get a peek at cosmic rays streaming into their classrooms from sources light-years away. They'll hear firsthand tales of working with some of the world's smartest scientists. If they're lucky, they'll get to try out a device designed to detect dark matter, one of the universe's most mysterious substances.
And that's just the beginning of what teacher Jeremy Smith hopes to bring back for students from eight weeks of research at Fermilab.
Smith is one of 11 teachers working at the laboratory through the Department of Energy's Academies Creating Teacher Scientists program. The three-year ACTS program brings middle and high school teachers to national laboratories across the country, where they spend one to two months each summer immersed in pioneering research. High school teachers such as Smith take part in a different area of Fermilab research each year, while middle school teachers focus on research in the first year and education issues in the second and third years.
"We help teachers build the skills needed for scientific investigation, and we show them ways to translate that into classroom practice," said Spencer Pasero, education program leader at Fermilab. "We also give them tools to make a broader impact at their home school," he added, noting that the middle school teachers are currently devising a professional development program for fellow teachers at their home schools.
Before this summer, Smith said he knew only the basics about dark matter and dark energy. Now, he's working with Fermilab astrophysicist Juan Estrada to develop a detector for possible dark matter particles.
"I'm trying to get Jeremy involved in all parts of the process," Estrada explained. "First, I had him looking at data we collected in the past. Then he worked on the calibration of our detector, and now he is learning about how detectors function at the level of the hardware itself."
Smith can't wait to take the lessons-and, pending a small grant, some surplus particle detectors-back to school.
"Kids get very excited about astrophysics," he said. "To have this experience, working on the real research projects, is very valuable."
-- Rachel Carr