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iSGTW Animation of the week - Intro to QuarkNet's Cosmic Ray e-Lab

Animation of the week - Intro to QuarkNet's Cosmic Ray e-Lab

Cosmic rays shower the earth and everything on it. What are they? Where do they come from? This screen shot is part of an introductory animation designed to fire students' imaginations.

As of 3 July 2007, teachers and students in QuarkNet's Cosmic Ray e-Lab had uploaded over 11,400 data files to their central database, with one file representing roughly one day of data collection.

These files are part of a new education and outreach program encouraging students to think more about cosmic rays. The data came from schools in 23 states across the United States, as well as Canada, Germany, India, Japan and Taiwan.

The Cosmic Ray e-Lab is a pilot for Interactions in Understanding the Universe. It seeks to establish an "educational virtual organization" that supports a portfolio of labs in which grid tools and techniques facilitate several levels of student activity.

So far, 305 teachers and 599 student research teams in 301 schools have e-Lab accounts; QuarkNet have already deployed over 232 cosmic ray detectors, with more on the way.

The success of this pilot e-Lab demonstrates what can be accomplished by connecting formal education, research science and information technology. The project aims to harness grid computing power to provide a learning environment for encapsulating tools and datasets, provides a mechanism for students to perform data analysis, and helps establish online communities for collaborative learning.

In this way, teachers can offer their students guided, experiential science investigations. By learning to work as scientists do, students enhance the way they think and their approach to solving problems. They become responsible for their own learning, defining their own research objectives and plans, and evaluating their success.

This integrated approach provides a powerful two-way interaction between experiments and education. By creating a unified toolset that can be used by the education programs of many experiments, a "critical mass" can be developed, supporting a common approach to teaching the data analysis skills students require to better understand their universe.

Also under development are e-Labs associated with the ATLAS, CMS, LIGO and STAR experiments, as well as a cosmic ray i-Lab for informal and museum settings.

- Marge Bardeen, Fermilab

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