Episode 10: How Do You Measure Particles That Can’t Be Seen?

Meet the Expert:   Gene Van Buren

Gene Van Buren, PhD,  is a nuclear physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). After moving around from the Philippines, to the U.S. Midwest, to its South, he found an interest in math as an overarching language in physics and computers. He pursued engineering and physics degrees at Washington University in St. Louis before diving into the specialty of nuclear physics for a doctoral degree at MIT. His career since then has focused on delivering science at BNL’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, with an interest in helping non-nuclear-physicists understand that science.




What do the scientists and engineers DO at Brookhaven National Laboratory?

 “Brookhaven National Laboratory applies its expertise and world-class facilities to pressing scientific questions about everything from the fundamental forces of nature to the complex interactions of ecosystems and the environment. Our cutting-edge explorations reveal processes that unfold across the smallest and largest scales of time and space imaginable—from the building blocks of matter to the edges of the universe itself.” – BNL website


Simply put, scientists and engineers work to discover  how our universe was built by colliding the tiniest particles (invisble to the human eye) and study how these particles interact with each other and their environment.

Discoveries at Brookhaven National Lab include:

  • MagLev–magnetically-levitated transportation found in trains and some monorails
  • Parkinson’s Treatment
  • First Lyme Disease Vaccine
  • PET ( positron emission tomography) scan — an imaging test that helps reveal how your tissues and organs are functioning, used to detect diseases such as cancer
  • DNA sequencing
  • Clean-burning oil
  • Pollutant-eating bacteria
  • As well as eight different subatomic particles that have further our understanding of how the universe is formed

The tube at Brookhaven National Lab where the ions are accelerated at huge speeds.

The Phenix detector at BNL where the ions collide and the measurements are taken to understand what type of subatomic particles were present (image credit Thomas Lin/Quanta Magazine)









Physicist Gene Van Buren explains the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). (photo credit Enrique Shore)


Watch this cool video to see how  “Hot Quark Soup”  forms at the Relativistic Heavy-Ion Collider  (RHIC) at BNL



  Watch the video of how particles collide and then draw your own image of what you think it would look like.

Choose  different colors for different particles.

With your parents permission, send us one of your pictures via email at podcast@solveitforkids.com OR

tag us on our Twitter or Instagram account @kidssolve

If you send in your challenge OR just leave a comment below about the episode, you will be entered into a giveaway to win a FREE copy of the book listed below.




FREE BOOK to enter to win for this episode!

Particle Physics: Brick by Brick  by Dr. Ben Still, PhD (Firefly Books)


A simple and entertaining introduction to the building blocks of the universe.

In 2014 the Lego® Group sold 62 billion Lego® pieces. That’s 102 Lego® bricks for every person in the world. That’s nothing however to the estimated seven billion billion billion atoms that make up each of us, let alone the between ten quadrillion vigintillion and one-hundred thousand quadrillion vigintillion atoms in the known observable universe.




Book List

Explore Atoms and Molecules!: With 25 Great Projects by Janet Slingerland (Nomad Press)

Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Thought Experiments by Jerome Pohlen (Chicago Review Press)

Astrophysics for Young People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson (Author), Gregory Mone (Contributor)  (Norton Young Readers)

A Black Hole is Not a Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano (Charlesbridge Publishing)

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