Upper Sixth visit the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

On Friday 10 March, the Upper Sixth physics class enjoyed a brilliant trip to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, for an insightful and exciting day of particle physics. The day consisted of numerous informative lectures, as well as a computer workshop, fascinating tour of the ISIS particle accelerators, and a quiz to round off the day (in which Mr Wilkinson came out on top of the teachers and Eva was a student prize-winner) – not forgetting the delicious chilli lunch we had in the middle of all the action.

Our class kicked off the day with two short lectures: “A Very Brief Guide to Particle Physics” and “Fundamentals of Particle Physics” in which it was helpful to revise some of what we had covered in our own Physics lessons, such as synchrotrons, cyclotrons, and linear accelerators. The group particularly enjoyed finding out more about the history of particle physics, as well as the science behind it.

We were then ushered into our computer workshop, during which we had a crash course on Python, and were then encouraged to use our new skills to process data from collisions that occurred in a real particle accelerator. Lauren (being an experienced computer scientist) and Liséa raced ahead, while Katy and Eva took the “slow and steady” approach, still being one of the few pairs with a successful code by the end of the workshop. The whole group received prizes (CERN merch!!) for their consistent effort and engagement during the session.

After lunch, we moved on to a visit of the ISIS Neutron and Muon source, which began with a short introduction outlining many of the uses of the laboratory and continued with a guided tour of the facilities. I was particularly intrigued by the idea that neutrons work as the ‘reverse’ of x-rays: while x-rays have no trouble penetrating skin, etc. they cannot penetrate bone, thus creating the well-known x-ray images of skeletons. However, neutrons can pass through thick lead with no issue, but struggle to pass through organic matter. This means that neutron imaging can allow someone to clearly see a rose enclosed within a lead casket. It was also interesting to hear about how components are tested at the laboratory to see how they withstand cosmic rays over time.

We finished off with a talk about how data from particle accelerators is processed and stored, and finally: the quiz. With Kahoot!-style enthusiasm, our group was adamant that we would win a prize, and we were proud to walk away with a CERN-branded umbrella – the perfect way to end the day!

The whole group completely threw themselves into all of the activities, and everybody agreed that it was a lot of fun to get to experience physics outside the classroom, in a real lab. Thank you very much to Mr Wilkinson and Miss Buchan for organising the day.

Eva, Upper Sixth

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