Academics and Research

Conference toasts 100 years of cosmic-ray research

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of cosmic rays, DU is hosting a three-day conference June 26–28.

“Centenary Symposium 2012: Discovery of Cosmic Rays” will feature more than 50 scientists discussing developments in the field over the past 100 years, as well as a consolidation and summary of new data and a look into the future of the field of cosmic-ray research.

The conference will include a free June 28 lecture, open to the public, titled “Messengers from the Cosmos: The Hunt for the Highest Energy Particles in the Universe.” Pierre Sokolsky, dean of the College of Science and a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Utah, will talk about the origin of cosmic rays and the natural processes that give the particles such extreme energy.

The lecture will begin at 7 p.m. in Davis Auditorium in Sturm Hall.

About 100 scientists from throughout the world are expected to attend the conference, says Jonathan Ormes, a research professor in DU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. More than a dozen graduate students also will attend, he says.

Ormes says cosmic rays—discovered 100 years ago by Austrian-American physicist Victor Hess—penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space. The rays are nuclei coming to Earth from extraordinarily violent events in the Earth’s galaxy and from other galaxies. Once they interact with the Earth’s atmosphere, they produce numerous subatomic particles.

Ormes says cosmic rays are of interest to NASA because radiation from the particles is dangerous to astronauts.

Earth is partially shielded from cosmic rays by its magnetic field, helping to protect astronauts in low Earth orbit. “But if you want to go to the moon or Mars, you are unprotected from cosmic rays,” he says.

“Cosmic rays are nuclei of atoms, and ionization from these charged particles is damaging to tissue. The rays are very highly penetrating. They can go through the skin of the spacecraft, right through the bodies of astronauts,” he says. “There is no way to shield against them.”

Scientists are interested in “just finding out where they come from and how they get their tremendous energy,” he says, “and why some cosmic rays have more energy than others.”

During the conference, scientists from the United States, Japan, Germany, Italy and France will discuss their cosmic ray research.

For more information on the conference, including registration, visit










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