Sharing thoughtful approaches to teaching physics with the wider world.
Our Annual CERN Pilgrimage
7 July 2017 at 11:36 #47786
Part 1 The set up
We have just come back from CERN and I thought I would share our experience with you. We have been going to CERN as a college for 7 years. I have been involved with the itinerary for the last four years. It all starts with a poster and a PowerPoint shown in classrooms.
As you can see above the students are selected by submitting a report based on current research at CERN. The work on anti-hydrogen was a popular report. This fitted with the physics we were teaching at the time. We were teaching the the energy levels and spectra part of AQA A level physics.
The next step is students get an initial letter for their parents/guardians with a returnable permission slip.
We manage to keep this trip half the price of the next cheapest trip in college. Admittedly we only spend two nights in the hotel and most other college trips are for a week. We also do not use a firm to organise and do the paper work for this trip. Most other departments do use an external firm but this just adds unnecessary costs to pass on to the student’s parents.
(If you are planning a CERN trip and wish for any further advice please do contact me by DM)
I cant stress enough how important it is to get the names correct as there is a fee for changing this. We also had a problem with a Icelandic student once as all three names were spelt wrong on his boarding pass. Boarding passes are your biggest source of problems on the outward bound and inward bound journeys, but more on this later.
As you can see we really stress this point about students names on the permission slip. There are various cut off with EasyJet for name changes and the fee gets progressively more expensive. We have used our reserve list before and changes can be made. One year a student had payed for a history trip with college around £700 and the CERN trip with us. He then realised two days before departure that the trips were in the same week. This student lost their CERN trip money and opted for the week long history trip. If you wish for any further clarification of any points you may have from reading the letter shared above then please ask.
Once we have the permission slips in we send out a second letter.
In this letter the important points are that all students need to bring their passport and EHIC card to the physics office and we photocopy them both on a single side of A4 paper. These all get scanned and we have a copy of this on our colleges sharepoint (cloud storage), we also take hard copies with us and leave a copy in college. Because we only stay over for two night we take hand luggage only. You can see in the letter the bag size. We strongly recommend rucksacks NOT wheeled suitcases. This is because on the last day we do our tours etc and then go straight to the airport. This means that students must carry their luggage on the last day all day. We also find we need to point out as much as we can that CERN will not let you go on the tours in open-toed shoes, sandals or high heels. We always get students with anxiety about bringing hair straighteners and large hair driers. The hotel provides hair driers and we tell students to pack to a minimum.
The EHIC card is free and can be requested here
Be careful here there are loads of fake EHIC websites that will charge you just for taking your data and passing it onto the NHS!
We next have parents and students in for an awareness evening. We show them the following PowerPoint
In part 2 I will talk about experiments on the flight and the research groups we visit.
7 July 2017 at 15:26 #47789
We’ve just got back from our trip. I wish I had enough Sixth Formers to have to have an application process!! We took 14 leaving tea time on Monday and arrived back at 2am Wednesday morning having spend all day Tuesday in CERN. We used adaptable travel to book the flights and the hotel and worked out about the same as if we had done it direct tbh, they take alot of the stress out of the booking process and provide a good workbook for CERN and treasure trail around Geneva if you have time. Whilst our students didnt get much of a look around Geneva because we didnt have alot of spare time, they did get all day at CERN, we arrived at 10am and didnt leave till 17:30 and got alot out of it. Will definitely be going again and have already started the planning. If schools are booking, you can apply for various grants from either the Ogden trust in England or the IOP will give up to £600 to cover costs of the trip as well.
9 July 2017 at 16:38 #47801
That is really good to hear Matthew. I shall be telling my colleague that plans the trip about your good advice. Reducing stress is a rare thing in teaching and I really like the sound of a CERN workbook. I have never thought of applying for a grant. I could use this to bring along two of our bursary students that could not afford to attend.
From the outset we are constantly saying did you not read the PowerPoint and emails with important information on. First time fliers often do not understand what has to be in the little plastic bag. We bring a supply of these and the airports have them. We have had some interesting events with customs. One year we had students with ADHD medications that required them to be in a locked box. Sad thing was the level of swabbing these students got when they had done everything by the book. This year we had a student who set off the x-ray machine. The airport staff put it through four times and were picking up a very dense almost spherical object. Yet they could not find it in the bag. I went to assist the poor student who was looking very anxious. In fact they were on our list as an incredibly anxious students and their mum was concerned about them being on the trip. What had happened was the student had a large smooth pebble from the beach and it had fallen behind the lining and hence could not be seen in the case. When it was found the airport official asked what is this for? My students was very anxious and said they did not know. They were saying this as they were leaning toward the stone trying to touch it! At the same time my colleague was texting the students mum and it transpired that the stone was a “touch stone” for the students anxiety. The poor thing just wanted to touch the stone as he was being questioned.
We have often been asked about this device
It is an MX-10 detector based on a Medipix chip. We are lucky to have this as part of the Institute for Research in Schools, CERN@school program. Customs at both airports are happy when you tell them it is a particle detector from CERN. This year coming home when asked about it, We had a joke about all the strange physics equipment they must see at Geneva airport.
You can see it in action with the gas mantle here
I have never been brave or foolish? enough to run the detector while it passes through the X-ray machine. A few CERN employees have told me that they have left their personal radiation detector in a case that has passed through the detector. This really confuses the lab that monitors the exposure of employees.
I always believe the fun starts on the aeroplane. When I was young I read a book about fun experiments to do on an aeroplane. So we build horizontal accelerator measuring devices from bluetack, string and a protractor.
We also ask the cabin crew when we are at the highest altitude. You can usually tell this from the crisps we have taken onboard.
This is when we screw the lids tightly on our empty bottles. These then look great at we come in to land. A physicists who shall remain nameless once opened his yogurt at altitude, hmm mm it went all over me.. him.
We like to run the detector in a vertical position on the plane. It is a passive device and really is no more than a camera with a CCD that responds to a different part of the EM spectrum.
The really long straight lines are Cosmic Ray Muons. Next up our first day in Geneva.
10 July 2017 at 09:08 #47808
Love the experiments on the plane. Yer we had a few issues with security at Manchester, namely girls make up brushes and my camera bag that was so densely packed that the x rays couldnt penetrate!!!
10 July 2017 at 15:47 #47845
Camera bags aproaching nuclear densities eh! From what I hear from other people there are lots of good hostels and hotels to stay in. We have always used the same hotel
They are close enought to Geneva station for us to walk to. We arrived in the afternoon so walked the students past Lake Geneva up the hill to the hotel. The hotel has WiFi and our students share in 2,3, and 4 bed rooms. These all have airconditioning and all the usuall amenities. The hotel has just been re-furbished and provides a great breakfast
This is the only meal provided from the initial cost of the trip. We gave the students an hour or so in their rooms before we head out to a restuarant we have been visiting for years in the old city.
We take a tram and all students are issued with a travel card for the whole of the visit.
The restuarant do us a student deal with a pizza or a pasta and a drink. We then head into the old city for an icecream.
In the old city some fountains (they are labeled) are drinkable water and you can fill your water bottles. We then head for a walk around the old city visiting these fine cannons.
10 July 2017 at 16:18 #47848
We start the second day with a big breakfast in the hotel and then get a tram to the centre of Geneva then one out to CERN.
We have built up great relationships with our local universities. Lancaster university has a research group that looks for B quarks. WHen arranging this sort of thing it is imperative to get them to meet you in the CERN visitors centre. The standard tour you will do is provided by the CERN vistors service. These people are very understanding and will help you access the site. There is a change coming to CERN security and all visitors will have a pre-arranged pass. This will happen when you book the normal tour. It is advisable to have your contact meet you and also to have already sent them a list of names. They then should have emailed the visiting service and security to supply the list of student names entering the site.
The Lancaster group book a lecture theatre and give us a great talk on their research.
Over the years we have had ex-students that work at CERN meet us and tell us about their own research. The students always impress me with their questions. We then get taken to the CERN canteen, the Lancaster group usually have lunch with us and continue to answer questions from our students.
24 July 2017 at 11:49 #47992
Before we go to CERN we like to introduce the students to a few concepts and ideas they will see. I first heard Jon Butterworth speak about his book Smashing Physics at a Supporting Physics Network Cambridge Summer School. You can get a feel for an SPN summer school from this Twitter hashtag. https://twitter.com/search?q=%23SPNCam&src=typd
We email out our students things to read as we progress through the course. Jon’s articles in the Guardian have always been a good source of material. Before our CERN visit the article we send is this one; http://www.theguardian.com/science/life-and-physics/2012/jun/08/why-is-lhc-big
The concept here of how the LEP could not go to higher energies due to the loss in synchrotron radiation as the beam accelerates around in a circle has come up in two of our CERN tour talks. It is a great opportunity to discus how some accelerators use this synchrotron radiation to do diffraction scattering experiments. Many years ago I used to take students to see ALICE at Daresbury we heard how Cadbury spent a lot of money to use X-ray scattering to explore the crystallisation of cocoa butter. This is a great opportunity to talk to students about the six polymorphs of chocolate.
We also email students and parents and suggest that they might wish to acquire Smashing Physics and read it before or during the trip. We do have three copies in the college library.
The students notice things from the book and last year we had a student notice a nerdy CERN van as they were reading about this in the book. This is being used to discus the same physics of why and how the accelerator is made in a circular path.
We also like to show the Salad Bowl accelerator to students before the trip. You can see one in action here
I first learnt of this piece of equipment from Dr. Suzie Sheehy, she has written a great explanation of how it works and how you can build one here
You can see Suzie and her salad bowl in action in this Royal Institution video with the great title “A Night of Science and Song at the Ri”
We also email out another great video to our students to watch. We have had some great feedback from the students about this one.
It is also by Suzie and The Royal Institution entitled “Particle Accelerators Reimagined”
Going back to our first morning with the Lancaster group you could see how the pre-material and constant discussions during travel had enabled the students to form some great questions to ask. One year one of the speakers from the Lancaster group had an issue with a projector and in the end said ok, ask me anything and I will try and answer it. I was impressed that the students asked questions continuously for an hour. Including a great questions, ” if the Higgs gives particles their mass, what gives the Higgs its mass? It is also always great to see students taking notes as they sit in the talks.
27 July 2018 at 09:26 #51757
We have been involved with the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS), it is worth taking a minute to see the projects you and your students could get involved with. http://www.researchinschools.org/CERN/home.html
It was our involvement with their CERN@school project http://www.researchinschools.org/CERN/home.html
As you can see above we used the MX-10 detector to view cosmic ray muons at high altitude. The medipix collaboration make the chip in the detector. Through are involvement with IRIS we have visited the research group at CERN several times now.
It has always been a valuable experience for the students. They give us a talk on the microchip they have developed and also take us in the laboratories where the chip is developed and tested. We always get the speakers to explain a little about their own career path. It is always interesting to see how they have developed. Sometimes you see people that started as engineers and are now programmers, some that started as programmers and are now doing the mathematics etc. It is great for students to see how mutable a career at CERN can really be. One of my favorite things we have at the Medipix collaboration is that it is a collaboration. One of the physicists was really proud to tell us what it was like to work in such a place as opposed to industry. They were not sworn to industrial secrets and could openly develop ideas with scientists across the world. This meant that the technological developments were openly shared and other scientists could come up with ideas. For example one of the later chips developed has a time of arrival function. This was developed along the same lines as a mass spectrometer for analysis of cancer tissue. Because it uses the time of flight of the ions through the detector with electrostatic forces instead of magnetic, it could be much smaller and used in real time in operating theaters. The surgeon could pass tissue to an operator who could tell if it was normal tissue or cancerous while the operation was performed. Often tissue would need to be sent to a laboratory for examination after the operation.
27 July 2018 at 11:50 #51767
The most important thing to do when organizing a CERN trip is to book your official tour. From this year it has been important to have visitors passes to visit your own research groups. If issued on the same day the ones you have been issued for the tour will allow you access to meet your CERN contact. This year we had so many students apply for the trip that we decided to run two trips. It was too late by then to arrange an official tour. So our contact from Lancaster university arranged a tour of ATLAS as well as our usual talks they arrange. This involved them inputting
First name, Last name, Nationality , Birth place (city, country), DoB (dd-mm-yyyy)for all the students and also finding a guide. This made us realise how important the guided tour was for the passes alone. You book your tour on the link below.
The tour starts with a talk. The talks are given by existing and ex-CERN employees. They tell of the history of CERN and the current research being undertaken.
Last year we had a talk by Dr Vincent Smith.
It was interesting to meet Dr Smith as I had come across his talk in the “Einstein Year” of 2005.
Here is the flyer he handed me
After the talk you are taken by a guide on a tour.
27 July 2018 at 13:16 #51772
You do not know what tour you are getting until after the talk. We have had a several different ones over the years.
Students are always in awe of the size of the equipment. One of the most purchased items from the gift shop is the CERN hard hat. It always makes me laugh when they sit on the plane with them all on their heads.
CMS, the compact muon solenoid has always been my favorite. You can see a lot of safety features here.
The guides are always very knowledgeable and are keen to answer all the students questions.
27 July 2018 at 13:21 #51773
You actually get close to the strong magnetic field in CMS. Here a guide is showing us what happens to a paper clip chain. If you look closely the paper clips start to curve towards the wall.
My phone switched to a different screen as I was trying to film this. It had happened the year before. I have since found out that placing my phone on powerful magnets switches the mode to that shown below (please do not try this with your own phone).
27 July 2018 at 13:33 #51776
We have also had the Synchocyclotron CERN’s first accelerator. This like all the tours has some very good graphics and information. Louis de Broglie proposed CERN to bring back the physicists of Europe who had been displaced to other continents during the war. There is so much human story to tell the students.
There are two other things to visit at CERN. There is the microcosm a museum that tells the story and operation of CERN. Here there is also an amazing bubble chamber.
This always captures the attention of the students.
There is also the Universe of Particles down stairs in the Globe. This has my favorite detector, it is a spark detector. You can watch the cosmic rays.
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