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Secondary School Students Take Part in International Particle Physics Masterclass

News feed for Trinity College Dublin.

May 14, 2014

Around 40 secondary students from Dublin and Co. Kildare recently discovered the fascinating world of particle physics as Trinity College Dublin’s School of Mathematics welcomed them to participate in an international event involving 10,000 students from 40 different countries.

As well as learning all about the fascinating but mysterious world of leptons and quarks, the fifth and sixth-year students contributed to cutting edge research by performing measurements on data provided by a specialised detector (CMS) that is used to investigate particles at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).

CERN is best known for housing the Large Hadron Collider that provided evidence of the existence of the Higgs Boson particle last year.  

The students then engaged in a video conference call led by CERN to discuss their findings with others who had performed similar analyses from other participating institutions in Finland, Cyprus, Croatia, and Italy.

Speaking about the event, Professor and Head of the School of Mathematics at Trinity, Sinead Ryan said: “The day was a great success and it is a hugely popular event. The students were able to participate in one of the most exciting experiments ever undertaken; they probed the very nature of our Universe in the search of answers to some very profound questions about its origins.”

Hitachi Assistant Professor in Pure & Applied Mathematics at Trinity, Dr John Bulava, who had previously worked at CERN, gave an introductory lecture on particle physics theory. He explained how the mass of particles like the proton can be understood, as well as outlining what the Higgs Boson is. Then the students got to work, analysing real CMS data, to bring to life the physics and maths they are learning at school.

The students learned about the impact of particle physics on other fields and on our daily lives, had a glimpse of how CERN scientists deal with large data sets and work in international collaborations, and saw how CERN and particle physics can train scientists, engineers and ICT professionals.

This event and similar days at NUIM and UCD show the enthusiasm that Irish students have for particle physics and fundamental research, despite Ireland not being a member of CERN.

The participating schools included Coláiste Chilliain, Dublin 22, Muckross Park School, GaelCholaiste Chill Dara, St Benildus College, St. Mac Dara's Community College, Templeogue, The King's Hospital School, Abbey Community College, Loreto College, St. Stephens Green, and St. Wolstan's Community School, Celbridge, Co. Kildare. Some of the quotes from the participating students were:

At the end of the day, I think I came out of Trinity with a great understanding of particle physics and I am now much more confident for the physics exam in June!”

The part I enjoyed most was talking with people from CERN. They are at the core of particle physics research and they experience discoveries and difficulties first hand on a daily basis and I really picked up a lot from them.”

This Masterclass has allowed me to see what sort of things I would be doing if I were to choose particle physics in third level.”

“I have to say that this experience has pointed me towards particle physics in Trinity.”

The ‘masterclass’ was made possible by the work of many including the CMS collaboration, the moderators at CERN, staff and graduate students of Trinity’s School of Mathematics, and particle physics researchers.  

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| sharon.campbell@tcd.ie | Last updated: May 14, 2014