Particle and Accelerator Physics Masterclass
06 May 2015




Daresbury Laboratory held its Particle Physics Masterclass over 3 days at the end March, with a record-breaking attendance of more than 278 students and 29 teachers.

Sonal Mistry (ASTeC) demonstrating the triple-point of water to 3 students, accompanied by guest presenter Penny Jones (2nd from right).
(Credit: STFC)

Daresbury Laboratory held its Particle Physics Masterclass over 3 days at the end March, with a record-breaking attendance of more than 278 students and 29 teachers from schools as far away as Conway and Wakefield.The event was organised and publicised by the Daresbury public engagement team, and hosted by the Cockcroft Institute (CI), with scientists from ASTeC and the Cockcroft Universities ably-supported by CI Ph.D. students delivering the Masterclass activities.

The Masterclass was opened by Dr. Graeme Burt, from Lancaster University and the Cockcroft Institute, who gave a review of accelerators past and present at the Daresbury Laboratory, and showed the many applications of accelerator and particle physics beyond the search for new particles, including creating better chocolate and making shrink-wrap.Prof. Fred Loebinger then gave his ever-popular overview of Particle Physics, and the part played by the University of Manchester.

Following refreshments the students embarked on a series of practical, hands-on activities comprising an experiment to estimate the electron beam energy in the ALICE accelerator injector line, accelerator physics and particle physics simulations, and a series of thought-provoking demonstrations of physics and certain key under-pinning technologies required for many particle accelerators.

Students ‘feel’ the power of vacuum by trying to separate a pair of Magdeburg spheres
(Credit: STFC)

The ALICE beam experiment has been carried out at the accelerator itself in previous years, but sadly the requirements of the ALICE operational programme dictated that access for the Masterclass would not be possible.Instead, the students completed this as a classroom exercise, supported by a demonstration of an electron beam bending in a magnetic field using a fine-beam tube and a webcam.Under expert guidance from CI staff and Ph.D. students, the visiting students were able to complete the calculation and estimate the energy of this relativistic electron beam.

One of the tasks set for the students was completion of the Lancaster Particle Physics Package (link opens in a new window) – a web-based package which reviews the basic principles under-pinning particle physics, and goes on to apply these to real LHC collision data.Ultimately, the students are able to identify collisions which contain the signature of a Higgs particle. This activity was complemented with accelerator physics simulations using the MAD (link opens in a new window) package to investigate the effects of varying magnet strengths in the accelerator lattice on the focussed beam size at the collision (interaction) points in the LHC, so in effect, students were shown how to set up the particle beams and then challenged to analyse the data generated.

Students receive a briefing on their tasks during the particle and accelerator physics simulations in the Brunner-Mond Suite
(Credit: STFC)

Aspects of under-pinning particle accelerator technology such as vacuum, superconductivity, the use of high voltage to accelerate particles and the use of magnetic fields were also demonstrated to students in what was the most relaxing of the four practical sessions. In this session the students got hands-on experience of vacuum and its effects as well as seeing real accelerator components.Students and teachers alike were amazed by the Meissner effect (link opens in a new window) (the expulsion of a magnetic field from a superconductor) in which a high-temperature superconductor is first seen to levitate above a magnetic track, and then ‘hang’ from the inverted magnetic track (it literally levitates below the magnetic track). A viewing of the ALICE promotional video completed this activity, and gave the students a clear picture of how the free-electron laser light and THz radiation generated by ALICE is used for scientific research.

The day was rounded-off with a talk by Prof. Tim Greenshaw on the University of Liverpool’s work in the field astroparticle physics. Throughout the day students were answering a series of quiz questions and the prizes were awarded at the end of the day.

During two of the three days over which the Masterclass was run, the team were joined by 6th form student Penny Jones from Withington Girls’ School.Penny attended the Masterclass in 2014 as a student with her school, and won first prize in the quiz, achieving full marks (the first time this has happened).She subsequently spent a week during the summer of 2014 completing work experience in ASTeC with Dr. Lee Jones.Penny enjoyed her experience at Daresbury so much, and has such a passion for physics that she asked if she could assist in the delivery of the 2015 Masterclass.

Feedback during and after the event has been superb, as the following quotes demonstrate:

“All of our 6th formers really enjoyed the day and it made them feel a part of the Science community. Both myself and the physics team thought the day was fantastic and very inspiring. It was also very relevant to their exam specification which is great.” – Laura Whittaker, Outwood Grange Academy

“It was the best school trip that I have attended to-date” – anon

“I just wanted to say a massive thank you to you and all the people that helped with the workshop.It was so professionally organised and also was so helpful to the AS course.The feedback from our pupils on the coach back was great and they would all like to thank you and the organisation team.” – Lee Suthard, Altrincham Grammar School for Boys

Graeme Burt, from the Cockcroft Institute said:

“The STFC team did a great job in organising this year's masterclass and always enjoy taking part. It's a great opportunity to connect with the next generation of particle physicists and engineers and help nurture their passion. I am always surprised by how much the students already know about particle physics, and sometimes we have to look up some of the students more advanced answers to the quiz.”


Dr. Lee Jones
ASTeC and Cockcroft Institute outreach & public engagement

Wendy Cotterill
Daresbury Laboratory Senior public engagement officer