Generating excitement over physics in local youth: Area high school students compare notes with European peers

Riverside, Ca –

tudents from Hemet High School and Corona’s Centennial High School visited UC Riverside’s Department of Physics and Astronomy this week to participate in the International Particle Physics Masterclass, an annual program of the European Particle Physics Outreach Group. 

The Masterclass is an interactive two-day exercise in which high school students analyze specific particle physics data.

On March 18, the 19 visiting students attended a series of special lectures and participated in exercises. 

“The Masterclass is one way for our department to reach out to local high school students,” said Bill Gary, a UCR professor of physics and astronomy, who led the Masterclass. “It engages them in hands-on exercises and boosts their interest in university-level research.” 

In the Masterclass, the high school students are introduced — through lectures and exercises — to particle physics, experiments, and detectors. They analyze specific particle physics data and get rigorous coaching from expert particle physicists like Gary.  They also get to work with peers far from home.  

Students in physics class
UC Riverside professor Bill Gary leads the Masterclass. (Iqbal Pittalwala/UCR).


The next day, on March 19, the visiting students took part in a videoconference with CERN, the particle physics laboratory on the border of Switzerland and France, and high schools in France, Italy, and Spain.  During the videoconference, the local high school students compared their results from their March 18 experiments with those obtained by the European students, all of whom performed the same set of exercises.

“Inviting our local high school students to UCR shows them that the university has students just like them, that they, too, can participate in forefront science, and that science is a profession that each of them might aspire to,” Gary said. “As a result of the Masterclass program, we have had at least 14 students subsequently enroll at UCR.”

Dallas Charlot, who is majoring in physics at UCR and expects to graduate this summer, took the Masterclass as a student at San Jacinto High School.

“At the Masterclass, I could see the physics you could learn and apply in the modern day,” he said. “It inspired me to be a physics major, and the professors I got to meet made me want to pick UCR for my undergraduate studies.”

Owen Long and Steve Wimpenny, both professors of physics and astronomy at UCR, assisted with the Masterclass exercises.  Along with Yanou Cui, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, they gave lectures to the visiting high school students.