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Our Mission

A primary mission of Physics Outreach, by which we can impact the maximum number of students and affect the greatest learning of science, is providing high quality, content-based professional development to science teachers. A second fundamental mission for Physics Outreach is to support and help sustain broader impact endeavors of Purdue University Physics faculty, and to engage the K-12 academic community to their research interests and academic pursuits.

Out and About - Current Events

The Centenary Flight of Victor Hess

Who was Victor Hess? Victor Hess was an Austrian physicist who, in August of 1912, commanded a hydrogen-filled balloon through Northern Bohemia on a scientific expedition.

Ascending to an altitude of over 17,000 feet, Hess provided evidence that the penetrating ionizing radiation that had long been detected at the surface of the Earth was not from terrestrial sources, but instead was showering down upon us from outer space. Hess’s work earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1936.

Hess’s conclusion was confirmed a decade later by Robert Millikan, who actually coined the term “cosmic rays” to describe the phenomenon. Hess’s discovery opened the door for research being conducted still today in nuclear and high energy particle physics.

Using modern technology, Physics Outreach will re-enact Hess’s experiment they same way he did it – from the basket of a balloon! Follow the story at Purdue QuarkNet.




Boy Scout Troop 154 Lock-in
Boy Scouts from Troop 154 take part in experiments at Physics Outreach lockin

With the help of parent volunteers, Physics Outreach presented a series of 16 guided inquiry investigations for Boy Scout Troop 154 in Monticello. The interactive investigations introduced approximately 60 elementary age boys to concepts related to physical science, including circuits, laws of conservation, naturally occurring forces, pendulums, fluids, and visual phenomena.

Among the favorites that made it big were two investigations involving electric circuits. The scouts learned about the components of circuits, and then made and tested their predictions about the kinds of materials that act as conductors and insulators.

Boy from Troop 154, Physics Outreach Boy 2 from Troop 154, Physics Outreach

At the conclusion of the event, senior physics student Aaron Zimmerman held a Q and A with the boys to hear about what they had learned.

Physics Outreach with Boy Scout Troop 154

See more about this story, including a video of some of the activities, on the Purdue College of Science website.

Physics Outreach gets a "Thumbs Up!" from Purdue Today: https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/purduetoday/thumbs_up/2013/Q1/purdue-physics-department.html




Physics Outreach Takes Inquiry Into Forces
to Local Montessori School

Service learning student Aaron Zimmerman and Physics Outreach organized a series of table-top investigations for a science extravaganza at the Follow the Child Montessori School in Lafayette. The theme of the investigations was naturally occurring forces. Students experimented, for example, with varying both the mass and length associated with pendulums (below left), buoyancy, and the effects of changing arm length and mass of a balance beam (below right).

children learn about force with pendulum children learn about force with balance beam

Parents of children who attend the school were recruited to conduct the various investigations with students. Zimmerman, with Society of Physics Student member Zachary Babyak and David Sederberg, Director of Physics Outreach, instructed parents in the principles involved with each of the guided-inquiry investigations.


parent helps teach about buoyancy Here, one of the parent volunteers is guiding children in an investigation into the buoyancy of various common objects.


At the culmination of the day’s activities, Zimmerman provided the children opportunities to express and share what they had learned in each of the investigations with other members of the class. Follow the Child group in classroom

These concept-focused, hands-on investigations are components of the PEARLS program. PEARLS (Physics Education Activities and Resources for Learning) activities allow children to investigate phenomena and related concepts at their own pace in an informal learning environment.




Prof. Bortoletto at West Lafayette Public Library
The Discovery of a New Particle
Is it the Higgs? Why is it important?

Physics Outreach recently coordinated a presentation by Purdue Physics Distinguished Professor Daniela Bortoletto at the West Lafayette Public Library. Professor Bortoletto, noted for her continuing leadership and scientific discovery in high energy particle research facilities around the world, related her related experiences leading to the identification of the Higgs boson, an elementary particle on the radar of particle physicists for decades. In addition, she presented a broad and informative view of the zoo of elementary particles of which we and the universe around us are all composed.

Daniela Bortoletto library talk
Photo courtesy of Tim Brouk/College of Science


Bortoletto inspired a packed house which included several dozen high school students from high schools as far away as Hamilton Southeastern. Go Royals!




Liquid Nitrogen Cryogenic Show at Sugar Creek Elementary

(Starring Batteries, Bulbs, Bells, and Balloons)


Physics Outreach and the Purdue SPS (Society of Physics Students) engaged fourth and fifth grade students at Sugar Creek Elementary on Grandparents Day with a presentation based on themes related to cryogenic temperatures.

SPS members at Cryogenics show

Events of the afternoon were led by SPS members Rachel Fulper, David Blasing, Aaron Zimmerman, Chris Kraner, and Li Yi, pictured at left, with Director of Physics Outreach, Dr. David Sederberg.

Students and their grandparents explored the effects of extreme temperatures on physical properties of materials, sound, electrical conductivity and resistance. Teams of students competed with their grandparents in constructing a circuit using a battery, bulb and wire.

A highlight of our presentation was the modeling of how resistance in a wire decreases with a decrease in temperature. In a kinesthetic enactment, students occupied the places of atoms in a metallic wire and learned how thermal energy impedes conductance. Their grandparents played the roles of electrons! Check out the video below.

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QuarkNet Teacher Institute – Summer 2012


Purdue University Physics Outreach recruited nine teachers for the 2012 QuarkNet professional development institute, over half of which had never before participated in QuarkNet! Participating teachers learned about the origins of cosmic rays and their ubiquitous presence throughout the cosmos. Teacher also learned ways of observing the effects cosmic rays and conducted hands-on experiments using cosmic ray detectors.

Observing traces of muons in cloud chamber

Physics teachers John Barry (Seeger Junior Senior High School) and Chris Horner (Westfield High School) observe traces of muons and other forms of ionizing radiation in a cloud chamber.

A significant element of the week’s activities was the showcasing of a software interface developed by Lafayette Jefferson High School student Frank Roetker and Professor Matthew Jones as an outreach component of an NSF award. The software provides a simple interface with which to visualize and analyze cosmic ray data in real time. Popular experiments teachers will take back to their classrooms include measuring cosmic ray flux over long time periods, as well as measuring the mean lifetime and the speed of muons coming through our atmosphere.

Teachers tour Prime Lab's Particle Accelerator

As a component of the QuarkNet teacher professional development program, teachers toured Fermilab. Pictured here, teachers pose with the tandem Van de Graff accelerator in the PRIME Lab at Purdue. PRIME Lab researchers routinely use the ratio of isotopes in sedimentary rocks produced over time by cosmic rays to calculate the age of the rock.

Through the Purdue QuarkNet Program, teachers will be provided the use of cosmic ray detectors for teaching about particle physics and cosmic rays in their own classroom. Materials prepared for the summer workshop, including including PowerPoint presentations and the software interface for the cosmic ray detector, are availailable at the Purdue QuarkNet Center link in the menu on the right.


Re-making History — In the Steps of Victor Hess


Cosmic rays were serendipitously discovered by Austrian Victor Hess in 1912, concluding years of research. Expecting what he believed to be terrestrial-based radiation to diminish with altitude above the Earth, Hess actually found higher levels of radiation as he ascended almost three miles above the Earth in a hydrogen balloon. Hess’ findings led him to conclude that the radiation he measured was actually coming from space! Dr. David Sederberg, director of Purdue Physics Outreach worked with McCutcheon High School teacher Cheryl McLean, McCutcheon student Stephen Claypool, Purdue Physics major Chris Kraner, and Physics Professor Matthew Jones to put the QuarkNet detectors and newly developed software to the test in a natural field environment.

rate of muon activity vs altitude chart

The data that the two students recorded and analyzed show a definite trend in cosmic ray flux, more than doubling from ground level to an altitude of approximately 9000 feet. Right on Victor Hess!


If you have any questions regarding the Purdue Physics Outreach Program, please write to us.