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Dept News Science: Year 13 Particle Physics Masterclass

Posted on: 10/06/2019

On 4th April, the A-Level Physics class attended a Particle Physics Masterclass at the Royal Holloway College University of London, one of the leading universities in the UK. Upon arrival, we had a lecture revolving around The Structure of Matter, led by a head lecturer of the Physics Department. During the presentation, he demonstrated the insignificance of the size of the Earth compared to the vast Solar System, Galaxy and The Universe of which it is a part. He also explained the concepts of matter, anti-matter, fundamental particles, and the various sorts of other particles that exist including their key properties. The lecture was beneficial to gain prior understanding of key principles of particle physics before engaging in the activities.

The first activity our group participated in was Particle Physics Measurements, in which we used the Atlantis Simulation Software to scroll through multiple events and identify the collisions based on the energy paths. In this activity, we had to pinpoint electrons, muons, background radiation to determine if we had any examples of the Higgs Boson. In the end, all our results were combined and graphed, as would be done in CERN.

Following the previous activity, we gathered again for another lecture, this one focused around ATLAS and the Large Hadron Colliders. This lecture was interesting as CERN is defined the home of particle physics with the largest and most complex scientific instruments in the world. He used a model to demonstrate the colossal size of the colliders and went on to explain the different layers that made up the detecting chambers and how they worked. We were shown examples of data from CERN and the irregularities in the trend lines that proved the existence of the Higgs Boson at certain energy levels. The lecture came to end with an animated video showing how the particles are accelerated fast enough to collide with enough energy within the system.

After lunch and refreshments we went to our next activity, The Lancaster Particle Physics Package, which was a software developed by Lancaster university to illustrate the techniques used to determine the properties of the particles being studied. Within this session, we got to play around with the software and see the way in which particles would collide in different angles and with varying energies. We experimented with different properties to identify specific particle paths that were given to us. An engaging activity enabled all the students to work independently and explore particle physics in further depth.

Next we moved on to our final activity which was Particle Physics Detectors. This activity was composed of several demonstrations displaying key principles of physics. First, we were introduced to a Van Der Graff Generator, which works through static charge and the passing on of negative electrons. We were also shown how the high voltage could cause ping-pong balls, covered in conductive paint, to continuously move around a bowl due to repulsion and constant momentum. During this activity, we met a former student, Inada Penman, who attended Hatch End who is currently studying at the university for a Masters degree in Physics. One of the amusing parts of the day was an experiment showing particles acting under a magnetic field, where a piece of metal was cooled with liquid nitrogen and placed on the curve, which made the metal hover down the slope. This was an example of the real-life application of this process in latest train technology. After, we used Rutherford’s gold leaf set up and a derived formula to estimate numbers of alpha particles. Finally, in the last part of this activity, we observed a cloud chamber, which is a particle detector used to visualise the passages of ionizing radiation and we spent time counting the number of alpha particles decay that were occurring over the span of a minute, differentiated by its thick energy passage.

We ended the day with an evaluation of the activities and our findings from the first activity. The Masterclass was thoroughly enjoyed by all members of the group as it enabled us to gain a deeper insight to what is involved in particle physics and was also taught in a manner that was easy to understand for a-level students. Overall, we had a great day and left with a lot more knowledge regarding particle physics than we came with and would definitely recommend other students to attend in the future!

Vaibhavi Canacrai (6HMe)