Hands-on Particle Astrophysics

Get hands-on to build and use devices to detect and measure air showers genereated by cosmic-ray protons.

Workshop Dates

July 28-August 1, 2014
For Educators Grades 9-12

2014 Application Closed.

Workshop Overview

Following a brief overview of modern particle physics, you will learn why and how particle astrophysicists are building detectors at the South Pole, on the Argentine Pampas, and on balloons high over Antarctica.

The workshop will explore the science of enigmatic ultrahigh energy cosmic-ray particles, cosmological neutrinos, antimatter from annihilating dark matter particles, and gamma-rays from galactic and extragalactic sources.

Hands-on with Particle Detectors

Instructors will help you build and use devices made from household materials to detect air showers generated by cosmic-ray protons.

You will also assemble and learn to operate modern advanced particle detectors to study these air showers quantitatively, and to apply data analysis techniques to extract scientifically meaningful results from the data.

Other Resources

We will also explore resources that explain the underlying science and introduce you to the effects of cosmic radiation on Earth and on people traveling in space.

National Science Education Standards

History and Nature of Science:

  • 9-12 grade: Nature of Science knowledge

Earth and Space Science:

  • 9-12 grade: Origin and evolution of the universe

Physical Science:

  • 9-12 grade: Interactions of energy and matter

Pennsylvania Academic Standards for Science and Technology with Assessment Anchors

Physical Science, Chemistry, and Physics:

10th grade

  • 3.4.D: Explain essential ideas about the composition and structure of the universe.

12th grade

  • 3.4.D: Analyze the essential ideas about the composition and structure of the universe.

Unifying Themes

10th grade

  • 3.1.B: Describe concepts of models as a way to predict and understand science and technology.

Inquiry and Design

10th grade

  • 3.2.A: Apply knowledge and understanding about the nature of scientific and technological knowledge.



Stephane CoutuDr. Stephane Coutu

Coutu has been at Penn State since 1997 and is currently a Professor in the Departments of Physics and of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Previously he was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Michigan and a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology.

Coutu designs and builds scientific instrumentation (assorted particle detectors and readout electronics) integrated into complex payloads flown on high-altitude NASA balloons from remote locations such as Antarctica, northern Canada or the US Southwest wilderness. With these, he studies naturally occurring high-energy particles of matter and antimatter, in an effort to identify and characterize their sources in the Galaxy.

He is also involved in the large international Pierre Auger collaboration, currently constructing the world's largest detector over an area the size of Rhode Island in western Argentina, with which the most energetic and rarest particles in the Universe are studied.

Doug CowenDr. Doug Cowen

Cowen started at Penn State in 2002 and is currently a Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Astrophysics.

With training in high energy particle physics, he earned his PhD at the European laboratory called CERN, worked as a postdoctoral fellow with Caltech at the Cornell Electron Synchrotron, and then as an Assistant Professor at University of Pennsylvania on the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), a neutrino experiment in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

While at Penn, in 1997, he joined the Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array (AMANDA) a large-scale neutrino telescope under construction at the South Pole, Antarctica. Leveraging the success of the AMANDA project, he works with a large international collaboration of physicists and astronomers on the extension of the AMANDA project known as IceCube. The goal of IceCube is to detect ultrahigh energy neutrinos from cosmological sources in an attempt to open up a new window on the universe, also known as the "neutrino sky." Possible sources of ultrahigh energy neutrinos include some of the most energetic phenomena in the universe, assumed to be fueled by enormous black holes, such as Gamma-ray Bursts (GRBs) and Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN).

Tryce DeYoungDr. Tyce DeYoung

DeYoung is an Associate Professor of Physics at Penn State.

His research interests are in high energy neutrino and gamma ray astronomy—learning about extremely energetic objects in the Universe, such as Gamma Ray Bursts, Active Galactic Nuclei, and Supernova Remnants, by observing the particles and photons they emit.

He is presently working with Prof. Cowen and an international team of physicists to build the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole.

He is also working on a ground-based gamma ray telescope with a very wide field of view called HAWC (the High Altitude Water Cherenkov Observatory), suitable for observing very short transient events such as the mergers of neutron stars and black holes.

Irina MocioiuDr. Irina Mocioiu

Mocioiu joined Penn State in August 2005 and is now an Associate Professor of Physics. She was previously a research associate at Argonne National Laboratory/University of Chicago and at the University of Arizona. She got her PhD from SUNY Stony Brook.

She is pursuing phenomenological work in particle physics and astrophysics, with emphasis on neutrino physics. She is also actively participating in joint work of theorists and experimenters with the goal of designing the next generation neutrino experiments.

Paul SommersDr. Miguel Mostafa

Mostafa is an Associate Professor of Physics at Penn State since 2013. He is also a faculty member of the Institute for Gravitation & the Cosmos.

He studies ultra-high energy cosmic rays -- the most energetic and rare of particles in the universe. When these particles strike the Earth's atmosphere, they produce extensive showers made of billions of secondary particles. While much progress has been made in nearly a century of research in understanding cosmic rays with low-to-moderate energies, particles with extremely high energies remain mysterious and detecting them is challenging because they are extremely rare.


NSFGenerously sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA




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The professors were EXCELLENT!!! 

They genuinely were excited about what they do and trying to help us learn. They were constantly asking us how material could be applied in our classrooms. They listened to our ideas and sought our input. I was just blown away by their level of care and attention.

They made very difficult material fun and exciting.  I feel like I was personally and professionally enriched and will be able to guide very inquisitive students better in the future on these topics.

Anonymous Astrophysics Participant

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