UT Physics Students Training Next Wave of Scientists

KNOXVILLE — University of Tennessee physics students are learning how to build cosmic ray detectors so they can teach the same skills to East Tennessee high school students.

Dr. Soren Sorensen, UT physics professor, said the effort is called Tennessee Cosmic Ray Observatory Project, or TECOP.

“The idea is to deploy cosmic ray detectors at 10 local high schools to measure the high-energy

Dr. Soren Sorensen

particles coming to us from outer space,” Sorensen said. “The UT students have practiced building detectors so they can, in turn, instruct high school students in how to build them.”

Sorensen, who also conducts research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, said ORNL has donated old detectors to the group to be used as models for the new equipment.

“We are finalizing our second prototype of what we want to donate to each participating high school,” Sorensen said. “Then we will have a one-week workshop late in the summer when the participating high school teachers and students will come to UT. We’ll teach them the physics behind TECOP so they can start building the detectors.”

Sorensen said cosmic rays are high-energy particles from space that scatter and create showers of smaller particles when they strike the Earth’s atmosphere. Physicists work to understand the effects of cosmic rays on Earth, and that’s the goal of the detector network, he said.

East Tennessee high schools agreeing to participate in the TECOP program include Bearden, Catholic, Farragut, Fulton, Halls, Maryville, Webb and William Blount.

Sorensen said the program benefits everyone involved.

“It’s a way for us to make high school students enthusiastic about scientific research and physics in particular,” Sorensen said, “and it’s a way for the UT physics department to strengthen its ties with local high school physics teachers.

“Eventually we hope more high school students will be interested in coming to UT to study physics.”

Information about the TECOP program is available at http://www.phys.utk.edu/tecop/.