On 7 September, the winners of the Beamline for schools competition will arrive at CERN to claim their prizes.
The two teams of high-school students – Odysseus' Comrades from Varvakios Pilot School in Athens, Greece and Dominicuscollege from Dominicus College in Nijmegen in the Netherlands – will spend 10 days conducting their proposed experiments at the fully equipped T9 beamline on CERN's Meyrin site in Switzerland.
Though T9 is usually used to test and calibrate particle detectors, physicists Cenk Yildiz and Saime Gurbuz prepared the beamline as well as some of CERN's vintage detectors to run the students' experiments.
"We're testing and assembling detectors to make sure they will work, and writing data acquisition, monitoring and analysis software in preparation for the students' arrival," says Yildiz. "It's working well, ready for the students."
The winning teams were chosen on the basis of motivation, creativity and science content from a total of 292 proposals. Odysseus’ Comrades – a team of 12 – will look at the decay of charged pions (particles made of a quark and an antiquark) to investigate the weak force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature. Dominicuscollege – a team of five – will grow their own crystals to make a calorimeter, a device that measures the energy of a particle, and test it with the beam at CERN. Their calorimeter will also be used as a component in the pion-decay experiment. Physicists, engineers and experts in beams, detectors, data acquisition, data analysis, safety and radio protection from across all CERN departments are helping with the preparations for the experiment and will offer guidance during the experimental phase at CERN.
"The students' time will be split between shifts on the beamline, control room, data analysis, and visits around the site," says Christoph Rembser, who is coordinating the project. "The teams will share shifts and work together. After all, international collaboration in science is part of what makes CERN such a unique place to work."
For Yildiz, the experience will allow the students to see how experimental particle physics happens day to day. "Learning to take logs, to be systematic, the experience of switching shifts with other teams – these are just as important as theoretical and technical skills," he says.
Rembser says that the system Yildiz and Gurbuz have built can be reused by CERN scientists – the beamline for schools competition is feeding useful technology back into CERN science. "The apparatus could also come in handy for next year's competition," he says.
Stay tuned for more updates on Beamline for schools.