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Cosmic Ray Detectors Installed at L.A. Middle School


PASADENA, CA -- A large crane will lift two 250-pound, white, funnel-shaped cosmic ray detectors on top of a science building at San Fernando Middle School on Nov. 19, and as soon as a few cables are connected, students as young as 11 years old can kick off their own astrophysics research.

The detectors are the 50th to be installed in an array of cosmic ray detectors that are located at schools throughout Southern California. They will be installed at 11 a.m. at the school, which is located at 130 N. Brand Boulevard, San Fernando. The media is welcome to attend., but the event is not open to the general public.

The California High School Cosmic Ray Observatory (CHICOS) is a collaborative effort between the California Institute of Technology, Cal State Northridge, UC Irvine, and public and private high schools and middle schools in Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.

Speakers at the installation will include Caltech provost Steve Koonin, Los Angeles Unified School District boardmember Julie Korenstein, LAUSD superintendent Sue Shannon, San Fernando Middle School principal Arturo Del Rio, Caltech physics professor Bob McKeown, who created the CHICOS project, and participating students and teachers.

After the detectors are lifted to the roof and activated, there will be a few public remarks, and then teachers and students will demonstrate how the equipment collects data on cosmic ray showers and discuss their own role in the project.

The CHICOS project demonstrates how hands-on experiences can inspire enthusiasm for science among middle- and high-school students--enthusiasm that is crucial to the future of California as a center for discovery. It also illustrates the value of public/private and university/secondary school collaborations. CHICOS "captures" cosmic rays slamming into Earth's atmosphere with the energy of a brick falling from a rooftop. In order to detect the cosmic rays, detectors must be deployed, like a large fishing net, over many square miles to capture signs of the incoming rays. The schools participating in the CHICOS project make up parts of that critical net.

Deployment of the CHICOS array began in fall 2001, and the plan is to install 90 detectors by 2004. Students and teachers from CHICOS schools worked in a Caltech lab during the past two summers, building and testing equipment for one week while enjoying daily presentations on related scientific topics. Students have worked with CHICOS data independently from home and school, and are encouraged to make real scientific contributions to the data collection and analysis. Many additional students are reached through site visits, classroom presentations, and a growing set of classroom curriculum units developed by CHICOS researchers and teachers.

In the last decade, particle astrophysicists have operated several large detectors to study cosmic rays because the origin of the particles is unknown. It is assumed that they are atomic nuclei accelerated to prodigious energies by violent magnetic activity somewhere beyond our galaxy.

The primary research goal of CHICOS is to collect data on these cosmic rays in order to characterize their rate of arrival and directions of origin. CHICOS is already the largest operating array in the northern hemisphere and will continue in that role for many years. Together with other large-scale detection facilities--such as the Auger project, under construction in Argentina--CHICOS hopes to shed light on the identities of these mysterious travelers from far beyond our galaxy.

For more information about CHICOS, see the web page:

News media planning to attend should call (626) 395-3227 by 5 p.m. Nov. 18 to ensure a parking space and written materials.


MEDIA CONTACTS: Jill Perry, Media Relations Director Caltech (626) 395-3226

Ellen Morgan, LAUSD Office of Communications (213) 241-6766

Monica Carazo, Communications, LAUSD (818) 755-5392

Visit the Caltech media relations web site:

Caltech Media Relations