Tuesday, July 14, 2015
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High school students are 'beaming' at the Fermilab Test Beam Facility

The team of students from Glenbrook North High School attends a morning colloquium with teacher Nate Unterman before working at the Fermilab Test Beam Facility. Photo: Ashley Black, OC

It isn't your typical science fair fare: Students from Glenbrook North High School in Illinois have carried out an experiment in a way that very few high schoolers will ever get to do — using a high-energy proton beam at America's premier particle physics laboratory.

The group recently spent a week at the Fermilab Test Beam Facility to help investigate a potentially better method for testing nuclear reactor cladding materials.

"We're really excited about this," said 18-year-old Julia Masterman. "Our main goal is to try to make nuclear reactors better in the long run."

Many nuclear reactors and their materials have not been updated in 20 to 30-plus years. Nuclear cladding material is currently tested for durability by putting it in a nuclear reactor, waiting two or three years and then pulling it back out. By analyzing the crystalline structure, researchers can determine characteristics such as brittleness. That's an expensive, time-consuming task that requires a rather large sample, explained 16-year-old Brian Burke.

"In order to have a new generation of nuclear reactors, to make them better, safer and more efficient, you're going to need new materials," Masterman said.

Using a high-energy proton beam could prove to be cheaper and more efficient than current methods, and Glenbrook North's experiment checks whether this method can be used as an alternative to a test reactor for material that would usually go into a nuclear reactor.

Neutrons and protons have virtually the same size and weight, and this makes proton accelerators prime candidates for re-creating the bombardment and energy transfers found in nuclear reactor environments. If successful, the protons will mimic the effect of neutron bombardment that the cladding material experiences in a nuclear reactor.

"We want to be able to expedite the testing process and make it better and less expensive, and we also really love the science that's involved," said 17-year-old Yaal Dryer.

To formulate their experiment idea, the students traveled around Illinois to attend lectures and talk with experts. After trips to Fermilab, Argonne and Northwestern University, they hypothesized their solution. Then, once the students had gone through safety training and Fermilab personnel had surveyed the test area for radiation, the high school team got to work.

"We've already learned a lot of just how science works in the real world," Masterman said. "You can't really understand particle physics without being out here and seeing the scale of everything."

The group's mentor and teacher at Glenbrook North High School, Nathan Unterman, approved of his students' curiosity.

"They know way more than I do; they are more expert on this than I am," he said. "That's how I like it — I want to be a teacher that gets the students to exceed my capabilities."

The Fermilab Test Beam Facility accepts proposals from researchers around the world who want to test their detectors and technologies. Hopefully even more high school students can have similar experiences, working with the same advanced technologies that professional scientists use.

"Each week there's something new, and it's very interesting to see the different groups and their dynamics," said Fermilab Test Beam Facility Manager Mandy Rominsky. "It would be nice to keep doing similar outreach for younger people."

Ashley Black

In the News

Huge population of 'ultra-dark galaxies' discovered

From ars technica, July 11, 2015

About 321 million light-years away from us is the Coma Cluster, a massive grouping of more than 1,000 galaxies. Some of its galaxies are a little unusual, however: they're incredibly dim. So dim, in fact, that they have earned the title of "Ultra-Dark Galaxies" (UDGs). (The term is actually "Ultra-Diffuse Galaxies", as their visible matter is thinly spread, though "ultra-dark" has been used by some sources and, let's face it, sounds a lot better). This was discovered earlier this year in a study that identified 47 such galaxies.

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In Brief

Allan Franklin Colloquium on shifting standards in experimental particle physics

Allan Franklin

At the Fermilab Colloquium in One West on Wednesday at 4 p.m., Professor Allan Franklin of the University of Colorado will talk about the changes in the presentation of experimental results from the early 20th century to present and their implications.

Franklin, who researches history and philosophy of science, has written several books, including, Are There Really Neutrinos? An Evidential History, No Easy Answers: Science & Pursuit of Knowledge and, the most recent, Shifting Standards: Experiments in Particle Physics in the Twentieth Century.

After the colloquium in One West, discussions will continue in the Music Room of the Users Center.

Construction Update

Second building of Muon Campus under construction

Construction crews continue Muon Campus construction. The large area in the foreground will be the remote handling room. Just above, on the other side of the rebar, will be the drop hatch area. Photo: Marty Murphy, AD

Despite a rainy construction season, general contractor Whittaker Construction & Excavating is making good progress on the Mu2e Building.

The large basement slabs are under construction, with concrete forms being installed to start the foundation wall-pouring soon.

The photo above shows in the background the nearly complete Muon Campus Beamline Enclosure Project. The beamline enclosure project connects the Mu2e and Muon g-2 beamlines to the Muon Ring (formerly used as the Antiproton Source).

The MC-1 Building, which houses the Muon g-2 storage ring, is visible to the left.

Russ Alber

Photos of the Day

Dog days of summer

Coyote pups have been hanging around the Feynman Computing Center. Photo: Greg Deuerling, SCD. View Fermilab at Work for more photos of coyote pups.
Sleepy pups sun themselves. Photo: Reidar Hahn. View Fermilab at Work for more photos of coyote pups.
One of the eight-pup litter awakes from its nap near the external beamlines. Photo: Denton Morris, AD. View Fermilab at Work for more photos of coyote pups.
In the News

Fermilab to host eclectic folk trio

From Chicago Tribune, July 10, 2015

Members of the folk trio Sons of the Never Wrong have only one master.

"The great thing about us is that we only serve the song," said Deborah Lader, one of the group's members regarding the trio's dedication to writing and presenting original material.

The Sons of the Never Wrong will perform at 8 p.m. on July 18 as part of the Fermilab Art & Lecture Series at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia. Based in Chicago, the trio combines influences of folk, jazz, pop and rock and features Lader on guitar, banjo and mandolin; Sue Demel on guitar and drum; and Bruce Roper on guitar.

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