May 2015
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Learners to link up with astronaut
Shared Sky, shared wisdom
"Talking science" competition
A meeting of minds
Young scientists take on Australia
Learners unveil project in Beijing
Introduction to crystals
Young Science Communicators' Competition
SAASTA inspires class of 2015
Meet Prof. Nox Makunga
Top young achiever's journey
Wonders of water at Scifest Africa
Learners work with particle physicists
Meet SAEON's new education officer
Light comes out of the darkness
In the news
Upcoming events
It's a fact!

Opening the window of cutting-edge physics to young investigators

In International Masterclasses, high school students participate for a day to experience cutting-edge science by working directly with particle physicists – to analyse recent data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, located near Geneva in Switzerland.

The LHC is at the forefront of particle physics research, the study of the fundamental constituents of matter and the interactions between them.


The high school learners and particle physicists who participated in International Masterclasses at iThemba LABS

On this day, students analyse real data containing evidence of elusive, unseen particles including the Higgs boson, or study a form of matter which existed shortly after the Big Bang.

Great science often leads to surprises

Through their interactions with their particle physics tutors they are not only discovering fundamental particles, but that scientists are real people, that understanding uncertainty is essential, and that therefore great science is not only compelling but often leads to surprises.

They will round their day off by touring labs and participating in international videoconferences with their peers and fellow students from other countries, much as particle physicists do in their collaborations.

Working elbow-to-elbow with scientists

International Masterclasses were held at universities and science institutions around the world from 25 February to 2 April 2015. "The programme presents a unique opportunity for students to work elbow-to-elbow with scientists and get a taste of how modern research in physics works," says Michael Kobel, physics professor from Technical University Dresden and head of the programme.

Learners from the Cape Town area participated in the Masterclasses at iThemba LABS on 28 March and the University of Cape Town (UCT) on 1 April 2015. Both institutions invited students from schools around the City of Cape Town.

Particle physicists from South Africa working on the ALICE and ATLAS experiments at the LHC participated eagerly in the event: "The students love the programme. They can work with real data from the LHC and find it both challenging and rewarding."

At iThemba LABs, 21 learners from the following schools participated: Bishops, COSAT, Herzlia, Rhenish Girls High, SACS, Wynberg Boys High, Phandulwazi, Ocean View Secondary, Masiphumelela HS, Spine Road High, Oval North High, Zeekoeivlei High, Vuyiseka Senior Secondary, Intsebenziswano Senior Secondary and Strandfontein Secondary.

"The mix of learners was a winning combination and even led to a great improvement on last year's event. The learners worked very well together and had loads of fun at the same time. It was encouraging to observe more female learners participating in the event," says Leandra Taylor of iThemba LABS.

Ronald Engelbrecht from the Western Cape Education Department helped to coordinate and came to support this event.

Analysing real data from the Large Hadron Collider

The day at iThemba LABS started off with a lecture by Dr Tom Dietel from the University of Cape Town (UCT) on concepts of fundamentals of matter as well as an introduction to strange particles. The rest of the day involved the analysis done by the learners themselves where they had to analyse real data from the LHC, followed by a video conference between the learners at iThemba LABS, schools from Poland, Europe and Egypt, as well as the moderators at CERN.

Now in their 11th year, International Masterclasses are led by Technical University Dresden and QuarkNet, in close cooperation with the International Particle Physics Outreach Group (IPPOG). IPPOG is an independent group of outreach representatives from countries involved in research at leading research laboratories worldwide. QuarkNet is a United States teacher professional development programme supported by the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy.

Since 2013 the outreach programmes of both iThemba LABS and UCT have also been involved in this programme.

By Leandra Taylor, iThemba LABS