As of 3 July 2007, teachers and students in QuarkNet's Cosmic Ray e-Lab had uploaded more than 11,400 data files to their central database, with one file representing roughly one day of data collection.

These files are part of a new education and outreach programme encouraging students to think more about cosmic rays. The data came from schools in 23 states across the US, as well as Canada, Germany, India, Japan and Taiwan.

The Cosmic Ray e-Lab is a pilot for Interactions in Understanding the Universe. It seeks to establish an "educational virtual organization" that supports a portfolio of labs in which Grid tools and techniques facilitate several levels of student activity.

So far 305 teachers and 599 student research teams in 301 schools have e-Lab accounts; QuarkNet has already deployed over 232 cosmic ray detectors, with more on the way.

The success of this pilot e-Lab demonstrates what can be accomplished by connecting formal education, research science and information technology. The project aims to harness Grid computing power to provide a learning environment for encapsulating tools and data sets, provides a mechanism for students to perform data analysis, and helps establish online communities for collaborative learning.

In this way teachers can offer their students guided, experiential science investigations. By learning to work as scientists do, students enhance the way they think and their approach to solving problems. They become responsible for their own learning, defining their own research objectives and plans, and evaluating their success.

This integrated approach provides a powerful two-way interaction between experiments and education. By creating a unified tool set that can be used by the education programmes of many experiments, a "critical mass" can be developed, supporting a common approach to teaching the data-analysis skills students require to better understand their universe.

Also under development are e-Labs associated with the ATLAS, CMS, LIGO and STAR experiments, as well as a cosmic ray i-lab for informal and museum settings.

• This article was published online in iSGTW on 25 July.