HEP in the DVT: High school students and teachers develop a presentation of the LHC and its detectors inside a 50-foot dome theater.

Author: Chontel Syfox


The University of Notre Dame’s NSF-funded QuarkNet program uses particle physics experiments to engage, inspire, and educate high school students, and provides research, training, and mentorship opportunities for high school teachers. Each summer the QuarkNet center at Notre Dame hosts a research program, which brings students, teachers, and mentors together to work on various projects with Notre Dame physicists.

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One such project is the development of a presentation of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) inside the 50-foot diameter dome of Notre Dame’s state-of-the-art Digital Visualization Theater (DVT). Built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) to allow physicists to test various theories of particle physics and high-energy physics, the LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle collider. Building on the work of QuarkNet students from summers past, Zoe Surma, Camille Goethals, and Oliver McNeil, spent their summer break developing an animated presentation on particle physics and the LHC, to be shown live in the DVT at the Jordan Hall of Science. In order to give the audience an idea of the LHC’s mammoth size, Surma developed a 3D animation showing the accelerator and its detectors relative to the size of Notre Dame’s football stadium, while Goethals and McNeil worked on animations illustrating what particle physics and high-energy physics are.

Specifically, Surma, of La Lumiere High School, updated an existing model of Notre Dame Stadium, to include the Campus Crossroads development. She modeled the additional buildings of Campus Crossroads from scratch, painstakingly incorporating each element of its design. Goethals, of Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities, was assigned the task of modeling a 3D animation of the Rutherford Experiment, which established the theory of the atom. McNeil, of New Buffalo High School, was tasked with creating a 3D animation illustrating electron orbitals, or the behavior of electrons in an atom.

Notre Dame QuarkNet staff member Jeff Marchant, New Buffalo High School mathematics teacher Edward Fidler, and La Lumiere School physics teacher Ken Andert taught the students the basics of 3D animation using the professional modeling and rendering software, LightWave 3D, and provided ongoing guidance throughout the summer. Further 3D animation training was provided by outside expert Dan Ablan, who ran a two-day workshop. Dr. Keith Davis, Director of the DVT, and High Energy Physics Research Assistant Professor, Dr. Dan Karmgard, also provided mentoring for the group.