Notre Dame expands particle physics partnerships in Chile

Author: Stephanie Healey

PUC Masterclass, February 2015
Patrick Mooney explains to PUC high energy physicists how he uses
CMS data in his high school classroom.

In January 2015, the Notre Dame QuarkNet Center received its second Luksic grant from Notre Dame International to enhance the Masterclass Institutes Collaborating in the Americas (MICA), a collaboration between Pontifica Universidad Católica (PUC) in Santiago, Chile, and the University of Notre Dame particle physics education and outreach programs.

Adam Martin, assistant professor of physics, and Trinity School physics teacher Patrick Mooney ’78, ’86 Ph.D., lead teacher at QuarkNet, traveled to Santiago, Chile in February to host a two-day Masterclass for Chilean high school teachers. Mooney and Martin taught the teachers about basic principles of particle physics and showed them ideas for simple, engaging experiments to do with their students, such as creating cloud chambers to detect particles in the air. Having previously served as an assistant professor of physics at La Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia, Mooney was able to teach his portion of the classes in Spanish.

In addition to providing the Masterclass, the goal of the trip was to explore areas for scientific collaboration between the two institutions. “We wanted to show what Notre Dame is doing in high energy physics and learn about Chile’s work in the area,” Martin explained. “Notre Dame has several areas of research in common with PUC and new research collaborations will definitely develop over time.”

Martin was even able to establish his own connection with a PUC faculty member who studies particles in space using data from the FERMI satellite. The research is closely related to Martin’s work in theoretical particle physics. 

“I really enjoyed learning about the culture of science and society in Chile,” Martin said. “It was a great experience and I would love to take part in future classes.”

PUC Masterclass, February 2015
Masterclass attendees tested puzzles that demonstrated the rules
governing how quarks bind to protons and neutrons.

In March, an international Masterclass was held by videoconference for the students of the Chilean high school teachers who completed February’s masterclass, and local South Bend-area high school students whose teachers participate in the Notre Dame QuarkNet program. The students were able to study real particle physics data, share their results with each other and have their questions answered by particle physicists at Notre Dame and Fermilab, one the top particle physics institutions in the U.S. located Batavia, Ill. 

QuarkNet’s MICA is part of a larger partnership between PUC and Notre Dame, agreed upon in 2013, to strengthen scholarly engagement between the two institutions. The partnership established an exchange program for faculty and doctoral students to visit, work, study and collaborate with PUC colleagues.  Luksic grants were provided to Notre Dame as a gift from Chilean benefactor Andrónico Luksic to provide funding for the Notre Dame community to collaborate with colleagues at PUC on research, exchanges, and conferences.

Originally published by Stephanie Healey at on April 15, 2015.