Fermilab Education Home sciencelines Home Page Spring-Summer 1999

Fermilab Teacher Fellowship Program

Frank Lipinski came to Fermilab as a middle school physical science teacher in Easton, PA. and left with a new job as a high school physics teacher in Cheltenham, PA. During his time here, he learned a lot about particle physics through his research position, attending seminars and reading books.

Research Assignment. Frank's work with the CDF COT project, a new drift chamber for the CDF II (Collider Detector at Fermilab) experiment, involved measuring the thickness of printed circuit boards. These circuit boards hold the drift chamber wires at a precise position within the detector and a precise thickness of these boards corresponds to a critical tolerance in the overall design of the project. The measurements took place after two additional parts were epoxied to the circuit board material. In addition to making the measurements, Frank provided feedback to the technicians to improve the yield for epoxying these parts to a precise thickness. Frank maintained a database of his measurements which can be used to track the overall success of the procedures involved in assembling the printed circuit boards.

According to William Wester, his mentor at CDF, there were several characteristics in particular that impressed him about Frank's work. He worked independently and with attention to detail and used good analytical skills. He was quick to learn and understand the design of the circuit boards. This allowed Frank to help specify the measurement procedures and to work with the designers of his measurement fixture to improve the measurements. Part of his database involved keeping track of every circuit board which was assembled and ensuring that the record keeping was maintained. He defined several of the analysis graphs which he produced to describe the characteristics of the produced parts. He used Excel to produce summary graphs and to quantify the final results of the circuit board assembly.

Connections to the Classroom As part of his fellowship, Frank worked hard to connect what he did in the lab to the classroom by developing three Web-based activities, implemented in JavaScript. After working many months on these projects, he definitely qualified as a JavaScript guru. JavaScript as implemented in various browsers and platforms is a real challenge to master. Frank encountered lots of the pitfalls but demonstrated enormous staying power. His two projects on histogramming and particle decay provide teachers and students with two wonderful activities, inspired by his work here at Fermilab, but relevant to any physical science classroom. Liz Quigg served as his advisor in these projects.

Cutting His Teeth. The first activity he worked on was a carry-over from a previous project. He wanted to provide students with a tool for doing physics word problems.

Starting with motion and force problems, students can enter different factors and their magnitudes and choose the equation they need to calculate the unknown factor. Frank created a tool for teachers and students at his school in Easton. It was a pilot project and in some sense, a learning tool for Frank himself. It turned out to be much more complicated than he anticipated. Find it at http://www-ed.fnal.gov/students/hwtools/problem_handlers/index.html.

Pennies and Particle Physics. Frank developed a neat way for students to work with histograms much like physicists do. Frank took a jar of pennies, weighed each one carefully, recording their date and the city where they were minted. In 1982 the government started making pennies by coating zinc with copper, thus making a penny with lower mass than the mass of a copper penny. Frank wanted students to use histograms to discover what pennies are made of. Along the way, they learn about histogramming, the importance of taking lots of data, and the kind of information you can reveal by plotting data. Frank provided pages for teachers and students with the appropriate amount of background material to link the activity to particle physics.

Students can add pennies to the histogram by year and work through a series of questions. They also learn the concept of background. In an advanced activity students control the minimum and maximum values and the width of the histogram bins. With this tool, they can discover the rate at which pennies go out of circulation and what metal went into the 1943 pennies. Find it at http://www-ed.fnal.gov/students/hwtools/histogram/histhome.html. Frank warns that it has only been tested with Netscape 3.0.1. Try it with your students and send us feedback.

Statistics and the conservation laws are alive and well at Fermilab. The final project Frank worked on was a Web site to teach how particles decay and what physicists can discover from studying the different ways that a particle can decay.

As Frank explains, many particles are not stable and will "fly apart into two or more particles." When they decay, they obey conservation laws. For example, the total charge of the resultant particles equals the charge of the decaying particle. Frank provides a particle chart with the charges and masses of all the particles in his activity. A tool allows students to click on a particle to see what it decays into. A set of questions allows students to investigate conservation of charge and the stability of various particles. A more advanced version of this tool shows the quark components of particles. Students can observe quark transitions as one particle decays into another and discover which particles are hadrons, made of quarks, and which are elementary particles themselves. The final activity allows students to let the particles decay multiple times so they can see how frequently particles decay into the various possible decay products.

Particle physics relies heavily on lots of data with good statistics. The discovery of the top quark required painstaking, repetitive data taking, not just finding one top quark and saying "Eureka." Here students can learn about the statistical nature of fundamental processes, the power of statistics in revealing average behavior, and the value of comparing and combining data. Try it out at http://www-ed.fnal.gov/students/hwtools/dcypages/dcyhome.html

In his time at Fermilab, Frank exhibited a wry sense of humor which we are sure will put in good stead with new colleagues and students in Cheltenham.