iSGTW Feature - I2U2: educational e-Labs for real pre-college e-science

Feature - I2U2: educational e-Labs for real pre-college e-science

Students participating in an I2U2 QuarkNet e-Lab must construct their own cosmic ray detector, devise their own research questions and decide how to analyze their data and what to do with the results. More than 290 QuarkNet units are in place in schools around the U.S., with another 40 scattered in schools around the world.
Image courtesy of QuarkNet

Taking science out of the lab and injecting it into schools, Interactions in Understanding the Universe-better known as I2U2-is transforming pre-college education.

An Open Science Grid virtual organization dedicated to providing teachers and students with the data and tools used by large scientific collaborations, I2U2 also introduces high school students to the power of grid-enabled e-research.

Real science, real data, real grids

"The aim is to foster the experience of participating in scientific enterprise and the scientific community," explains Tom Loughran, I2U2 education program leader and high school physics teacher.

"We have flattened the learning curve for each area, studded it with milestones and wrapped in in useful resources and interactive online logbooks," Loughran says.

"The analysis tools are simplified, so that students check boxes and pull down menus rather than write code, but the same grid computing tools that support scientists collaborating over data also support student collaboration in their own research."

Much more like science, much less like school

As part of recreating the scientific experience, the I2U2 collaboration provides a series of online research environments, called e-Labs. These environments, says Loughran, provide students with an experience much more like science, and much less like school.

"e-Labs are an opportunity to invite students into the scientific community," says Loughran. "They give students a way to do research and participate much more directly in the research community; textbooks and typical laboratory experiences can't do that."

While participating in an e-Lab experience, students use the same collaborative and computational tools that scientists use, including grid computing.

"For example," says Loughran, "the meta-data associated with plot creation enables students to rerun or modify one another's studies very quickly, and opens up avenues for substantial interaction with peers over published results. These are exciting tools to have at the service of pre-college education."

This LIGO I2U2 teacher workshop brought together a pilot group of teachers from Washington, Oregon, Indiana and Pennsylvania who agreed to road test LIGO's software with students during the 2006-2007 school year. Once teachers are familiar with the workings of one I2U2 e-Lab, they are able to run any of the others.
Image courtesy of LIGO

Learn one, get the rest free

Once students have learned to use one e-Lab, they can use any e-Lab, leaving them free to explore the different scientific content of each. With new and improved projects in the e-Labs pipeline, the future of I2U2 looks as bright as the futures of the students it targets.

"Currently we have e-Labs in QuarkNet's cosmic ray studies, and in LIGO's environmental sensing data," says Loughran. "e-Labs using LHC data from CMS and ATLAS are under construction, and an e-Lab using CMS test beam data is available in a development version. We aim to create a suite of e-Labs that provide one-stop shopping for teachers."

And there is the potential for real results to stem from these student studies. One example has come from the LIGO program, where students analyzing seismic data found a correlation between wave height along the Oregon coast and the seismic activity picked up by LIGO sensors in Hanford, Washington.

e-Labs are available online and interested teachers or developers can contact Tom Loughran for more information. Participation in the program is free thanks to sponsorship from the Department of Energy Office of Science Office of High Energy Physics and the National Science Foundation.

- Cristy Burne, iSGTW