Thursday, April 22, 2010

PBS Nova's The Ghost Particle and The Particle Adventure

I picked this DVD of The Ghost Particle off the library shelf because it deals with neutrinos, neutrally-charged particles which were originally believed to be massless energy, but which are now believed to be the basis for all mass in our universe. Although a little dated (it's from 2004) it was short and interesting. There is a PBS Nova companion website, but I don't think it adds much to the video itself. The classroom activities involve guessing what's in a box -- good perhaps on a conceptual level, but not really "physics."

So we are working on putting together a lab in which we build a small cloud chamber to detect radiation from cosmic rays and/or slightly radioactive material (such as thorium mantles from Coleman lanterns). However, we still need a good background on subatomic particles. For that, I think I will have the kids look over a website called The Particle Adventure.

It gives information in little bite-sized portions, along with trivia questions such as:
For how many years have physicists known that there were more than just protons, neutrons, electrons, and photons? Answer: 60 years! In the 1930's physicists found muons, but hundreds more were found with high energy accelerators in the 1960's and 1970's.
 (Follow-up question:  How many components of matter other than protons, neutrons, and electrons did you learn about in high school physics? My answer: None!)
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