A Mini Visitor Center for the Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory

Project Director

Corbin Covault

Professor, Department of Physics

International Collaborators

The Pierre Auger Collaboration

Based at the Pierre Auger Observatory in Malargue, Argentina.


Students and faculty members installed and now operate an interactive “Mini Visitor Center” in the CWRU Department of Physics for the Pierre Auger Observatory. The center allows students and visitors to explore the observatory—the site of a major cosmic-ray detector—and to connect with international scientists in Argentina and elsewhere around the world.

The center, which consists of a large flat-panel display and a secure trackball interface, includes several Internet-based applications that allow students and visitors to interactively explore many details of the Auger in real time. The main feature is a customized version of Google Earth that provides a detailed 3-D tour of all of the observatory facilities in Argentina. Students can also access observatory displays and data and will soon be able to communicate directly with international scientists at the observatory.


Overall, the center’s educational goal is to enable students to apply their classroom knowledge of fundamental physics to understand and appreciate the nature of cutting-edge research involving a large international collaboration.

The center has been used as a component for “Physics and Frontiers” (PHYS 124), an “enhanced” version of the introductory electromagnetism course for first-year students. Students in the class accessed data from the site in Argentina and used these data, together with their understanding of how charged particles move in magnetic fields, to draw conclusions about the origins and nature of cosmic ray sources. Students also used the center to interact with international collaborators, generally by accessing video interviews.

After some initial difficulty developing software to make the trackball and button-system interface both user-friendly and completely secure, the visitor center is working quite well and now runs 24 hours a day.

The department is developing a new mechanism for direct, real-time interaction with scientists at the observatory. This system awaits completion of a high-speed fiber optic link in Argentina planned for mid-2011.


Total funding: $4,500

The grant funded the purchase of a high-resolution flat-screen display panel, computer, and track-ball interface for the visitor center, and allowed the department to hire students to develop and install the software.

The project is actively sustained by students working for the High Energy Astrophysics research group at CWRU (supported by the National Science Foundation) and the CWRU Department of Physics. The project will be sustained and expanded using these resources for the foreseeable future. The project has very high visibility in the physics department, and the department plans to support the use of the system for additional outreach and education projects.

Corbin Covault

Corbin Covault

Professor, Department of Physics

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