Introduction and Cosmic Rays!


Greetings. This should be the first of several opportunities that I will have to share some of the wonderful world of physics with you.  Having taught physics for over 20 years has given me some unique ways of seeing things that most people overlook.  I would like to be able to share some interesting things about our world that many people simple don’t realize or understand. 

This first article will be to introduce you to me and share my current passion in physics.  I grew up near a small town called Rocky, OK.  I attended school at Sentinel HS and graduated in 1986.  On my family’s farm, I farmed land and raised pigs most of my early life.  We didn’t have a lot of money, and my parent’s goal for me was to be a farmer the rest of my life.  This, however, was not my goal, I wanted to go to college and get away from the farm and was the first one in my family to go to college.  I eventually got my degree from the University of Oklahoma and started teaching physics and other sciences at Seaman High School near Topeka. 

While teaching in high school, I had opportunities to attend workshops and conferences to improve my knowledge in physics and physics teaching.  I found a group at Kansas State University called Quarknet that connected high school physics teachers with a college mentor and a National Laboratory.  With these connections, I was able to spend many summers working at Fermi National Lab near Chicago, Illinois.  I fell in love with particle astrophysics and became an expert in cosmic rays and ways to detect them.  During this time, I also finished my master’s degree from Emporia State University, and my published thesis was on the detection of cosmic rays.  I found an opportunity to move to Arkansas City to teach physics at Cowley in 2011 and continue to work with Fermilab conducting cosmic ray workshops around the world. 

So, by now you are probably googling what a cosmic ray is and how do we detect them.  The easiest way to think about them are as protons moving at high rates of speed throughout the universe.  These protons were probably on or near the surface of a large star as it suddenly ended its life by exploding, in what is called a supernova, and accelerated to very high speeds.  Some of these rapidly moving particles eventually run into the Earth’s upper atmosphere and collide with molecules to create showers of exotic particles just like the collisions in particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.  Some of these fancy particles have long enough lifetimes to reach the ground before they decay and we can detect them with cosmic ray detectors.

Martin Shaffer Website Profile Photo Final


Martin Shaffer,

Physics Instructor