Last December, for the first time, over 200 terabytes of CMS data recorded in 2010 and 2011 from lead-lead collisions were released into the public domain. When physicists collide high-energy heavy nuclei, for example, lead-lead collisions at the LHC, they study the transition from ordinary matter to the so-called quark-gluon plasma (QGP). This least-viscous liquid existed within 1 microsecond after the Big Bang, and it can be recreated in the laboratory by replicating the conditions that existed in the early universe, providing us with crucial insights into the mechanism of hadron formation, hence our Cosmos. The data are available via the CERN Open Data portal in the same high-quality format used by the CMS scientists to publish their corresponding research papers. The data are accompanied by the software that is needed to analyse them and followed by concrete analysis examples.
Taking advantage of this massive data release, members of the CMS Collaboration can now engage with communities of professional researchers and amateur enthusiasts as well as educators and students at all levels for encouraging wider use of the heavy ion data. One recent example had been the High-School Internship Program (HSSIP) 2021, that took place from 12-25 September in Geneva, during which students from Greece had a unique opportunity to be introduced to CERN, its technologies and physics, as well as to learn through workshops and by shadowing, observing, and working with members of personnel and collaborations. Among the educational activities, the “Quarks to Cosmos” project covered the basics of physics analysis at the CMS experiment. Students were invited to work daily on their assignments (Figure 1), and were essentially introduced to what typical working days for more than 2000 CMS physicists look like.
More specifically, we analyzed collisions recorded by CMS from the CERN Open data portal searching for heavy elementary particles like Z bosons and top quarks (Figure 2). Students took full advantage of the software available for basic-level usage of open data, even drawing special event signatures (Figure 3) possibly similar to the ones left behind by the primordial form that our Universe existed in. Students were interacting with each other through novel collaborative tools (Mattermost), whereas they collectively worked towards the final presentation and defense of their findings. The ratio of physics and computing content of the challenging project was 70 and 30%, respectively, leaving a legacy for them and their physics instructors to analyze and visualize LHC data at their home institures.
Prior to that, a questionnaire was circulated to the selected students (Figure 4) so that they can anonymously express their general knowledge about particle physics and attitude towards the importance of the work conducted in a particle physics laboratory, the potential impact on their daily lives, and whether the contents about particle physics in high school classes are adequate. In all cases, students seem to have grasped the fundamental idea behind colliding particles at accelerators, acknowledging the overall impact on the way we can nowadays perceive the Cosmos with the developed in-house technology being at the same time transferred to everyday life applications, for instance, medicine. Interestingly, they all found that the content about particle physics taught in high school classes is not widespread, suggesting an increase of the hours devoted to modern physics. In that way, they hoped that a modified curriculum could positively impact their imminent university studies, serving as a potential preparatory phase of the new generation of scientists and computing professionals. At the very end, an evaluation questionnaire was filled out with the general attitude being overall positive about their experience and interaction with the involved CMS members. In particular, however, students acknowledged that the project could have been more educational inclined, serving as a kind reminder for us that “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
CMS is hopeful that students at all levels and amateur enthusiasts as well as professional researchers will put the heavy ion data to similar use, building upon past experience from releases of CMS proton-proton open data that were applied not only on education but also novel research. CERN and CMS are looking forward to welcoming back the next High-School Students here in Geneva, Switzerland!
Read more about this announcement
• CMS collaboration releases its first open data from heavy ion collisions, https://home.cern/news/news/knowledge-sharing/cms-collaboration-releases-its-first-open-data-heavy-ion-collisions
• Heavy metal hits the top, https://cms.cern/news/heavy-metal-hits-top
Quarks to Cosmos project (High-School Student Internship Program 2021), https://indico.cern.ch/event/856125/timetable/#50-quarks-to-cosmos
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Disclaimer: The views expressed in CMS blogs are personal views of the author and do not necessarily represent official views of the CMS collaboration.