WINAMAC — Cierra Schmicker wasn’t sure she wanted to touch the VanDerGraff generator sitting by the classroom sink.
She’d just watch the machine — a metal contraption in the shape of an oversized popsicle — shoot shocks of electricity into other items and send metal disposable pie pans flying. And now her teacher was asking her if she wanted to place her hand on the roughly 15-inch sphere at its top.
It was just another day in Jeremy Wegner’s physics class at Winamac Community High School. Cierra and five other students were studying electric fields and potential energy, and the generator, a kind of particle accelerator, served to bring their lesson to life.
Wegner, who has taught science and math at Winamac for 14 years, will get a similar experience this summer when he visits a much larger particle accelerator at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN.
Wegner was one of five U.S. science teachers chosen to attend the organization’s High School Teacher Program, a three-week course about high energy particle physics and other current topics and how to apply them in the classroom.
“It is a great opportunity for Mr. Wegner, but also a great opportunity for our students as he will bring back all this knowledge and share it with our physics students,” principal Rick DeFries said.
DeFries praised Wegner as “an excellent teacher that makes learning fun for our students.”
“He has a unique way of sharing information in a very interactive way. His students take short field trips to the parking lot or to the gym to learn how these physics principles work,” DeFries explained. “As one of only five teachers nationwide to get this opportunity, we are excited and very proud to have him take part in this program.”