On 8 March Lower Sixth physicists went to Rutherford Appleton Laboratories for a particle physics masterclass.
After a quick tea or coffee and a welcome from those leading the day, we had two talks; one on the basics of particle accelerators, and the other on the basics of particle physics, a topic we had just finished in lessons. We learnt especially about the Higgs Boson, a particle theorised since the 1960s but only found in 2012 and believed to the particle responsible for mass.
After the talks we were shown around a particle accelerator, ISIS, and some of us occupied ourselves with the day’s photography competition. It was amazing to see so much of the physics we have only learnt about on a whiteboard in action. The accelerator had been running in the last few days so we could poke our heads into some sections of the enormous building to see what they were doing. It was interesting and awe-inspiring to see.
We were provided with lunch, where the pronunciation of ‘vegetable Provencal’ was debated in depth, and then we had a talk about the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. If we had thought the accelerators at RAL were large, we were proved wrong very fast. The LHC has a circumference of 27km, whereas ISIS has a measly circumference of only 163m.
We then had a computer workshop where we used real data taken from the Large Hadron Collider in 2012 to find a Higgs Boson, which was structured as a competition to make it more exciting. It was very fun, although slightly confusing to understand the computer software.
We had our second refreshment break of the day then had a talk on the applications of accelerators, which was admittedly mainly about faeces, but widened our view of what they do at RAL and CERN to real world problems. There was a quiz to end the day where we stretched our guessing muscles.
In all, we learnt some fascinating physics and got to apply the theories we had learnt in class to real science. The masterclass was on International Women’s Day and it was somewhat disheartening to be faced with a lecture hall of mainly boys, and we were reminded that physics is still a male-dominated subject. Hopefully this trip has inspired physicists in Lower Sixth to study physics further, or at least to consider it.