American college students visit MIAPbP

For the second time after 2022, American students from Spelman and Morehouse College along with faculty members visited the Munich Institute for Astro-, Particle and BioPhysics.

Odele Straub (ORIGINS Science Communicator) giving a talk on "Where did the particles in the universe come from?"

Morehouse and Spelman students with their professors, the organization team of their tour of Germany, and Meike Küßnner (bottom right).

MIAPbP guest researcher Chris Quigg (Fermilab) having fun with one of the students from Morehouse college.

In the MIAPbP seminar room, usually there are presentations on novel findings on astronomy, particle and biophysics, or there are discussion sessions among international experts in the aforementioned fields. On May 24th, however, the seminar room was crowded with 25 American students from Morehouse and Spelman College. Along with faculty members of their home universities, the students are currently on a two-week tour of Germany with a focus on labs and research institutions in Berlin and Munich.

It was the second visit of a group of Morehouse and Spelman students, after another group had come to MIAPbP in 2022. Similar to last year, the MIAPbP team had organized a stimulating schedule, with two generally understandable outreach talks, followed by an “ask-a-scientist” session with the participants of the ongoing workshop “The Present and Future of Heavy Flavour and Exotic Hadron Spectroscopy”. The first talk was held by Odele Straub, who is an astrophysicist and who works as a science communicator for the ORIGINS cluster of excellence. The second talk was given by Meike Küßner, an experimental particle physicist from Ruhr University Bochum and participant of the current “Heavy Flavour” MIAPbP program.

Odele presented first. In her talk, “Where did the particles in the universe come from?”, the students learned about the Big Bang, which, according to Odele, “was no bang, and certainly was not big.” This sparked the students’ interest, who wanted to know how stars form in the asymptotic branch. The students, who are all enrolled in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) degree programs, and who as part of their tour of Germany learn about career horizons, also wanted to know why Odele chose to become an astrophysicist. “I read about Black Holes one day, which fascinated me.” So she decided to do a PhD in astrophysics, Odele answered.

Her lecture was followed by Meike Küßner’s talk on particle physics, or more precisely, on the question of “Where does mass come from?” The students, who have certainly heard of atoms, electrons, and protons before, were fascinated by the fact that the mass of three individual quarks makes up only one percent of the total proton mass. Only when they come together, and gluons come into play, they gain mass. Meike explained that this process is not yet fully understood, which is a motivation to search for clues on how elementary particles interact, for example by accelerating them and letting them collide.

“Can you look inside a particle accelerator to see what is happening?” was one of the questions, after Meike had finished her talk. Another student wanted to know whether particle physicists, like those who work at CERN, are trying to develop new technology. Meike responded that she and her colleagues are doing fundamental research, fueled primarily by the pure curiosity to understand the building blocks of matter. Inventions, like the World Wide Web, which scientists at CERN first came up with, are beneficial side effects.

To further swap ideas and exchange experiences after the talks, the students gathered in small groups outside the MIAPbP building together with guest researches of the MIAPbP program. It was a pleasure to see these experts on hadron physics mix up with the young, African American scholars. Both Morehouse as well as Spelman are historically black colleges, located in Atlanta, Georgia. Morehouse is the largest men’s liberal arts college in the United States, while Spelman could be called its counterpart, with it being one of the oldest black colleges for women.