Smashing Particles!

Smashing Particles!, undertaken between January and May 2008, was a project that involved Yardleys School, Birmingham, and The Netherhall School, Cambridge. It introduced students from years 10, 11 and 12 to the physics of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and engaged them in undergraduate-level particle-physics experiments. The initiative was led by researchers Cristina Lazzeroni (University of Birmingham) and Deirdre Black (University of Cambridge), together with teachers Ally Davies (Netherhall School) and Stella Knowles (Yardleys School).

Cristina and Deirdre each made a series of visits to their local school, to talk with students about physics, particle physics and the LHC, and to help them plan and carry out their experiments. These were to understand electron diffraction in the case of Yardleys School, and to measure the charge-to-mass ratio of the electron in the case of the Netherhall School. These activities were complemented by two one-day workshops, attended by students from both schools.

The first workshop was a Particle-Physics Exploration Day, held on 18th March 2008, at the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge. This consisted of a series of talks and practical demonstrations, designed to give a broad overview of the aims and methods of particle physics.

The second workshop, held on 24th April 2008, at the University of Birmingham, focused on laboratory work, with the two schools swapping experiments. Working in small groups, students from one school guided students from the other school in the morning, then roles were reversed in the afternoon. Throughout the day, there was a spirit of collaboration very much in keeping with the best traditions of particle physics.

The second workshop also included a video link with CERN, where students were given a chance to ask questions to leading theoretician John Ellis. This was both informative and entertaining, with John fielding such diverse questions as: "How is is possible to tell if a detector malfunctions?", "What are strangelets?", "What is the environmental impact of the LHC?", "Will the LHC see supersymmetry?" and "What is the weather like in Geneva?"

Smashing Particles! benefitted from funding from the Royal Society, through a Partnership Grant, and from the Institute of Physics. The project features on page 9 of the Autumn 2008 edition of Inside Science.

Cambridge Workshop, 18th March 2008 Birmingham Workshop, 24th April 2008