Preschool Neutrinos

At my daughter’s preschool there’s a sign up at the end of every day with notes for the parents. It includes activities of the day, who napped, current illness in the class, etc. Last week the sign said “Ask your child about neutrinos”. Yep, they’re learning about subatomic physics earlier than I ever did, and in this case my Dad’s responsible.

Last time he was visiting he learned that my daughter’s class was studying Antarctica. He mentioned that a friend of his, Prof. Terry Matt at the University of Wisconsin, was down at the South Pole doing research. He got a picture of the research facility and a short description and my daughter took it into school.

The class came up with lots of questions (about half were about penguins, which are a hot topic if you’re 5), including “what are neutrinos?” based on a mention of the word in a description of the research program (they have built a huge neutrino detector way down under the ice). Terry and my Dad worked over email and came up with age appropriate answers to the questions. Apparently there was lots of interest in the neutrino answer, and the thought that invisible particles were raining down on the earth from outer space.

I did ask my daughter about neutrinos a few days later, and she’d remembered the key facts. But when you’re 5, one fact stands out: “Neutrinos are invisible, you know”.

(Note: if you want to brush up on your neutrino knowledge, PBS has a good show on right now about them)