Los Angeles-area high school students will team up with California Institute of Technology researchers to study ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays on their own campuses, thanks to a recent grant from the Weingart Foundation.
The Los Angeles–based foundation has donated $100,000 to Caltech to establish the California High School Cosmic-Ray Observatory (CHICOS) on four campuses in the Northridge area initially, expanding to 50 and possibly hundreds of sites eventually.
Of the four initial schools, three have a high number of students who are underrepresented in the sciences, which means the program may assist in increasing the number of future scientists in the United States.  The schools are Sylmar, Van Nuys, and Harvard Westlake high schools and Sherman Oaks Continuing Education School.
The research will be coordinated by Professor Robert McKeown of the Kellogg Radiation Laboratory in the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy at Caltech. The program will also incorporate a high school teacher education component coordinated by Dr. Ryoichi Seki at California State University, Northridge.  Teachers will develop curriculum materials to help their students participate in this research.  Caltech will host a summer workshop where physics teachers and students can participate in the construction of new detector stations for deployment at additional sites.
"This grant will give many high school students a unique opportunity to participate in research science at the university level," said Caltech president David Baltimore.  "It will serve as a model for future collaborations in other subjects between world-class research universities and high schools."
The project will involve the development and construction of detector hardware, associated electronics, and computer equipment to form a networked system among the high schools. A large array of this type will enable the study of ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays through the detection of "showers," several kilometers in radius, of secondary particles they create in the Earth’s atmosphere.  These are the highest-energy particles ever observed in nature and thus of great current interest in the astrophysics and particle-physics community. =20 Thus, while establishing a state-of-the-art experimental facility, this project will provide an exceptional educational experience for local high school students.  When a majority of the 50 sites are operating, it is expected that the project will yield significant scientific results that will be reported in the scientific literature.