Extreme Energy Events (EEE) – Science inside Schools
The goal of the project EEE (Extreme Energy Events) is to study extensive showers of extreme energy cosmic rays by means of a network of “muon telescopes”, distributed all over the Italian territory. Each telescope, developed at CERN in the framework of the LHC experiments (Large Hadron Collider), is constituted by three muons detectors (MRPC – Multigap Resistive Plate Chambers). Few telescopes are located at INFN sections and university departments of physics, but most are in Italian High Schools. Geographically, the telescopes are grouped in clusters in medium-large cities, or in other locations scattered from the North to the South of Italy.
On earth, we live immersed in a “flow of rays", called cosmic since they come from the most distant outer space, far beyond the moon, the sun and the same stars visible to the naked eye. Cosmic rays may also have significant implications in our lives, with effects ranging from climate change to genetic mutations, just to mention a few examples of the problems related to their study. These rays, which travel for millions and millions of years, are essentially made of protons and constitute the "ash" of the Big Bang. Arriving near our planet, cosmic protons meet the highest layers of our atmosphere. In the interaction between a proton and the nucleus of a gas atom, other subnuclear particles are produced, which live very short lives (billionths of a second). In their short lives, they are transformed into other particles, whose last stage are muons. At sea level, the bulk of cosmic rays is made of muons.
Muons are particles identical to electrons, that are part of atoms and molecules familiar to us; the unique diversity of muons is to be 200 times heavier than electrons. The reason for this difference is still one of the unsolved problems in physics today. Another open question concerns their origins: where, when and how the cosmic protons originate?
Here, then, lays the interest in studying high energy cosmic events (EEE - Extreme Energy Events).
Another goal of the EEE Project is to encourage scientific culture, through the involvement of a number ofItalian higher secondary schools: in each school a telescope is installed, which is built at CERN with the most modern and advanced particle detectors and with the direct participation of a group of students and teachers from the same school. Students can also realize how it is sometimes possible to step from a relatively poor material to instruments of the highest precision. Each telescope can be correlated with the telescopes of other schools in order to reveal the cosmic muons and extensive air showers (even as wide as entire towns) produced by cosmic rays of highest energy.
Construction of the EEE telescope by students and tutors
The data that are collected in each school establish an original contribution to the study of cosmic rays belonging to the EEE class.
Nowadays, in early 2013, the project involves 40 institutions of higher secondary education distributed throughout Italy. So, one of the two main objectives is reached: to bring science to the heart of young, even the very young, through direct action to encourage culture, that begins when students feel they are protagonists in the construction of an instrument and in the processing of data that are at the frontiers of scientific thought.
University teachers and INFN researchers, which are associated with the Fermi Centre for the advancement of the project, work in a more profound way for the second objective: scientific excellence.