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Sixth Form visit to CERN

It was a very early start on Friday morning as 20 students, accompanied by Dr Chater and Mrs Jackson, met at school for 3.45am to fly to Geneva. After checking into our hotel, we took the tram to CERN where we met Old Girl, Stephanie Hills. Over lunch we chatted to her about her hugely exciting job and time at St Helen’s. We heard about the fascinating CMS experiment from Sam Harper, a research scientist for CMS, which made us very excited for our visit the next day. Professor Danièle Steer, another Old Girl, then blew our minds by teaching us all about the theory of particle physics including black holes and Etam Massomo, part of a team of scientists who run a project called Cosmic Pi which is a "pocket sized affordable cosmic ray detector", told us how he built his muon detector, "BabyMIND", in Japan.

It was so incredible to see how innovative physics can be and how achievable it could be for us in the future too. A visit to the data centre brought gasps of disbelief as we realised how the internet was invented to store the mass amount of data CERN produces every second and we definitely had some trouble understanding the fact that these highly valuable wires could be cut by tractors digging! In order to let our brains process all the information from the day we then enjoyed a bit of shopping and a fondue dinner (enjoyed more by some than others as it was rather smelly!).

The next morning we met Anton Jusko, one of Dr Chater's old colleagues, and visited the synchrocyclotron which was CERN’s first particle accelerator. We then crossed the border into France to visit the CMS (compact muon solenoid).  We were lucky enough to be able to see inside the experiment and were definitely blown away by all the various wires and parts - it was a collective wow moment! It was also very interesting to see how the particles we study in the A-level course were found.  Probably the highlight for me was visiting the ALICE experiment where Dr Chater used to work. Although much smaller in size than CMS it was still fascinating. I learnt how ALICE aims to recreate and study a mini version of the Big Bang in which, for a brief period of time, there existed "quark gluon plasma" which is what there was before everything became particles and matter. It is so amazing what we can do with things so so tiny and how much we can learn from it.  We then headed to the airport for a very sleepy journey home.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and it definitely inspired me to think more seriously about a career in physics as it can be so ground-breaking and fundamental. Thank you so much to Dr Chater and Mrs Jackson for taking us on such a memorable and inspiring trip.

Bea, L6F


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