Undergraduate students in Joseph Sagerer's physics class will be exploring, from the comfort of campus, the hidden interior of El Castillo, the largest pyramid in Chichen Itza, an ancient city built by the Mayans and now a revered archeological site in Yucatan, Mexico. As part of a four-year program funded by the National Science Foundation, Sagerer's students will collaborate with students from Chicago State University (CSU) and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, as well as scientists affiliated with Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, to use muons--particles that originate in outer space--to study the otherwise impenetrable interior of this famous pyramid. 

El Castillo is renowned for its twice annual equinox displays, when the alignment of the sun creates an optical illusion of a serpent slithering down the mathematically precise steps of the pyramid. The spectacular events draw thousands of tourists from around the world.

The Non-invasive Archaeometry Using Muons (NAUM) Project uses naturally occurring muons--created in Earth's atmosphere when cosmic rays collide with oxygen and nitrogen atoms--to probe the interiors of pyramids, volcanoes and nuclear reactor cannisters, somewhat like x-rays used in medical imaging. 

The NAUM Project is scheduled to take four years, with the first three years spent on running simulations, developing software and assembling and testing a muon detector, to be built at CSU. 

One of the goals of the project is to increase the number of Black and Hispanic students in STEM disciplines and research. 

You can read more about this project in an article in Symmetry, a joint publication of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University.