The Daresbury Laboratory Particle Physics Masterclass 2014
08 Apr 2014




Daresbury Laboratory held its Particle Physics Masterclass over 3 days at the end March, with a record-breaking attendance of more than 330 students and 20 teachers from schools as far away as Conway and Wakefield


Daresbury Laboratory held its Particle Physics Masterclass over 3 days at the end March, with a record-breaking attendance of more than 330 students and 20 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. Lee Jones who gave a historic review of the Daresbury Laboratory, and demonstrated how the NINA project had led to the SRS and then to Diamond, ALICE, EMMA and VELA, and how synchrotron radiation (and its applications) are such a fundamental part of this story.  Prof. Fred Loebinger then gave his ever-popular overview of Particle Physics, and the part played by the University of Manchester, before handing-back to Lee for a virtual reality flythrough of the ALICE accelerator facility.

Students with the Magdeburg Spheres (Credit: STFC)

Following refreshments and a chance to look at the LHC roadshow which was conveniently setup at Daresbury during the Masterclass, the students embarked on a series of practical, hand-on activities.  These activities comprised an experiment to estimate the electron beam energy in the ALICE injector line, particle physics and accelerator physics simulations, and a series of thought-provoking demonstrations of physics and certain under-pinning technologies required for many particle accelerators.

In previous years, the ALICE beam experiment has been carried out at the accelerator itself, with students able to see the accelerator and make the requisite measurements, but sadly, requirements of the ALICE operational programme dictated that access for the Masterclass would not be possible this year.  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.

Dr Chris Lingwood leads a group through particle physcis simulations (Credit: STFC)

The students also completed the Lancaster Particle Physics Package (link opens in a new window) - a web-based package which reviews the basic principles of physics and 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.  The students also worked on 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.  Dr. Peter Williams was particularly impressed with the efforts of two students from the Outward Grange Academy who succeeded in focussing the particle beam to a size smaller than the LHC design requirement.

Sonal Mistry demonstrates vacuum and Magdeburg Spheres (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.  Students and teachers alike were amazed by the Meissner effect*  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.

Dr Lee Jones demonstrating the Meisner effect (Credit:STFC)

Lunch was provided, and while students discussed the morning’s activities or checked their facebook account, their teachers discussed science and outreach opportunities with the ASTeC and CI staff present.  The students were also given the opportunity during the lunch break to view a presentation prepared by the University of Manchester on the GridPP (link opens in a new window) network for the processing of LHC and particle physics data.

The day was rounded-off with talks by Prof. Tim Greenshaw and Dr. Barry King on the University of Liverpool’s work in the fields of particle and astroparticle physics.

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

Lee Jones, lead organiser for the Cockcroft Institute said:

“This is undoubtedly the best Daresbury masterclass I have been involved with, and the impact was clear to see on the faces of the students and teachers as they left the Laboratory.  The Cockcroft Institute team have done a fantastic job in delivering this event, and making everything run so smoothly.  It’s been great to see so many of our Ph.D. students actively involved, and benefitting themselves from the outreach experience.  My sincere thanks go to those CI staff and students who supported the masterclass, without whom it would not be possible to run the event.”


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

Wendy Cotterill – Daresbury Laboratory public engagement officer


*The expulsion of a magnetic field from a superconductor - (link opens in a new window)" > (link opens in a new window)