What Happens When Things Go Near the Speed of Light?

Investigating Special Relativity with Particle Physics Data

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This exercise is NOT a complete unit, rather it supports teaching and learning about special relativity in a regular physics course. We provide experimental data in many forms for student use. Students can download an ASCII file which contains the data or view plots that we have generated. Whether they plot their own graphs or study those provided on the site, careful analysis of the data yields an understanding of special relativity constructed from data analysis. Students can derive a form of the relativistic correction factor often referred to as "gamma."
Introduction to Research:
The content is framed within a student scenario that contains an authentic student task, a challenging problem and requires multidisciplinary inquiry and investigation. The task will require collaboration with peers and possibly mentors.

Fermilab Experiment E687

In this experiment, a high-energy photon is created by a proton from the accelerator. The photon strikes a stationary slab of beryllium. This collision occasionally results in the creation of a charmed meson (D0). Charmed mesons do not live very long before they decay into two other particles, a pion (p-) and a kaon (K+).

How far do D0 charmed mesons travel before they decay? Their half-life is 4.0x10-13 s which means they cannot travel very far unless they are traveling very fast!

Learner Outcomes: Students will know and be able to:
Research Question:
Our investigation is based on graphing particle physics data. Students will:
We envision this exercise as part of a larger unit in an introductory physics class. Among the multiple opportunities students should have throughout the unit, the assessment of this exercise might include . . .