UK News from CERN Issue 81

 

Issue 81 contents

Cloud Chamber workshop

Why don’t more girls study physics?

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The percentage of girls studying A’ level physics has stubbornly remained at 20% for more than 20 years.

Technical Students

A year in industry (with a difference)

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Did you know that you could spend your sandwich year at CERN?

High School Teacher Programme

Rediscovering the joy of learning

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My school has made a major investment in me.

Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes in the LHC

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A new play featuring the Large Hadron Collider has just opened at the National Theatre.

Potato Powered Cosmos

Potato Powered Cosmos

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An art-meets-science installation that demonstrates how CERN works, but not as you might expect.


 

Why don’t more girls study physics?

Cloud Chamber workshop

Cloud Chamber workshop
(Credit: Annette Dubois/CERN)

 

Equal percentages of boys and girls study science at GCSE but the percentage of girls studying A’ level physics has stubbornly remained at 20% for more than 20 years. Many other countries see a similar disparity.

The problem has been the focus of one of the working groups for international teachers taking part in CERN’s three-week High School Teacher (HST) Programme.

In between lectures and visits, and late into the evening, the working groups get together to come up with practical solutions to common issues.

David Fairweather teaches physics at Aiglon College, an international boarding school in Switzerland. “At GCSE, the class is an even split of boys and girls achieving similar grades. But the IB physics class is only 20% female.” Along with the other group members from Brazil, Colombia, Turkey, India and the Netherlands, David has been looking at current research into gender-inclusive teaching, sharing ideas and critically reflecting on whether he shows unconscious bias.

“One of the pieces of research that we’ve read looks at the language used by physics teachers in their end of year reports”, he explains. “While boys are often described as gifted or having natural talent, girls are more likely to be described as diligent or hard-working.” The choice of words, and the implied meanings, clearly matter when it comes to girls choosing subjects for A’ Level, and of course, that has implications for university choices too. David will be taking a careful look at his own pupil assessments, “I hope I don’t do that, but I intend to check.”

David’s group has built a website to share their findings and act as a forum for teachers around the world to share effective techniques for redressing the gender balance in physics. The website will include material developed by Sam Williams and her colleagues on last year’s HST.

If you would like practical suggestions on ways to encourage more girls to study physics, or you have a good idea to share, please join the discussion.

 

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A year in industry (with a difference)

Technical Students
(Credit: CERN)

 

The career-enhancing benefits of spending a sandwich year in industry are well-known: better degree results, enhanced employability and higher salaries. But did you know that you could spend your sandwich year at CERN? Applications for the 2018 Technical and Admin Studentships have just opened.

The studentships offer an opportunity to spend up to a year at CERN for undergraduates who are studying engineering, computing, applied physics, business, law and finance. Successful applicants will find themselves working in an international team delivering projects that are essential to CERN’s operations.

And just in case you thought that it’s only the physicists at CERN who are testing the boundaries of what is possible, you can expect to be using the latest technical solutions wherever your placement is based. You’ll get lots of practical support from highly experienced professionals, and when you return to your university to complete your degree, you’ll not only have an array of new skills, but you’ll also have a world-leading organisation on your CV.

If this sounds like the perfect placement, you need to start working on your application – the deadline is 16 October. We’ve even prepared some guidance notes to give you the best chance of success!

If this isn’t the perfect placement for you, but you know someone else who might be interested, please pass on the information.

 

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Rediscovering the joy of learning

High School Teacher Programme

43 teachers from 34 countries took part in the 2017 High School Teacher Programme at CERN
(Credit: CERN)

 

“By letting me come to CERN for three weeks during term-time, my school has made a major investment in me.” Rob Nickson is reflecting on his participation in the 2017 High School Teacher Programme.

Rob teaches physics at Alun School in Mold, North Wales. He took part in the three day Welsh Teacher Programme in 2016 where the combination of lectures and visits whetted his appetite; he was keen to spend more time at CERN. Joining 42 other teachers from 34 countries on the High School Teacher programme, Rob has rediscovered the joy of learning.

When the new term starts in September, Rob’s students can expect a lot more than the standard three lessons on particle physics required to satisfy the curriculum, “I’m going to modify my lesson plans to include more particle physics – they’re going to be context- rather than content-led.”

There’s a fair chance that he’ll also be making significant use of the many online teaching resources available through the IPPOG website. Along with five teachers from around the world, he’s been reviewing the resources that are available and proposing ways to redesign the website to be more user-friendly for teachers. “There are 342 different resources on the website. But no-one knows about them.”

Rob’s school is the lead school for science in North Wales. When term restarts, he plans to disseminate as much information as possible to teachers in the area, including the role of Welsh physicists in the development of CERN, “Before coming to CERN, I had no appreciation of the number of Welsh people at CERN, and didn’t know how important Welsh physicists have been in CERN’s history.”

There’s an evangelical look in his eye that suggests he’s on a mission to ensure the involvement of Welsh physicists in CERN’s future.

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Mosquitoes in the LHC

Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes
(Credit: National Theatre)

 

A new play featuring the Large Hadron Collider has just opened at the National Theatre in London. Starring Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams, Mosquitoes is set in 2008 and focuses on two sisters, both of whom are anxiously awaiting the switch-on of the LHC, but for different reasons; Alice is a physicist hoping to find the Higgs boson, Jenny has a strong distrust of experts and prefers to trust the information that she finds online.

The play, written by Lucy Kirkwood and directed by Rufus Norris, has already sold-out. But there are still tickets available for some of the outreach events that will take place at the NT during the play’s run.

CERN and STFC have helped to put together a fascinating programme of complementary events; former artists-in-residence Superconductor will be talking about the cross-over between art and science, there will be a screening of Particle Fever, Mark Levinson’s award-winning documentary following the search for the Higgs boson, and a panel discussion exploring public perceptions of science. And all visitors to the NT will have the chance to see behind the scenes at CERN thanks to rolling screens featuring the very best work from CERN’s film makers.

Listen to Lucy Kirkwood talking about Mosquitoes to BBC Radio 4 (scroll through to 19:40).

 

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Potato Powered Cosmos

Welcome to the Potato Powered Cosmos
(Credit: CERN)

 

UK artist Racheal Nee has been working with international teachers on the CERN High School Teacher programme to develop the Potato Powered Cosmos, an art-meets-science installation that demonstrates how CERN works, but not as you might expect.

“This is CERN,” says Rachael pointing to 25kg of par-boiled potatoes, sliced and sandwiched between thin sheets of zinc and copper held together by elastic bands, wired in series to make an energy source, and connected to a theremin and loud speaker. There’s a camera suspended above the speaker, connected to a screen.

“It represents CERN as an interrelated system of experiment, machine, energy and people,” she explains.

Essentially, the voltage created by the potatoes is connected to the speaker which converts the electrical energy into kinetic energy through the vibrations. By covering the speaker with a sheet of latex and some water, you can see the vibrations as movement on the surface of the water. As the voltage changes, the interference pattern on the water changes.

And that’s where the theremin comes in. By moving your hand around the wand of the theremin, you can change the voltage, simultaneously creating a change in the frequency of the sound from the instrument and the interference pattern on the water. The camera records the changes and the screen enables you to view the pattern.

Rachael and her teacher colleagues have set the experiment up in one of CERN’s main thoroughfares. Throughout the day it attracts a steady stream of curious passers-by.

“Nothing happens unless someone interacts with the theremin,” explains Rachael. “It’s that same at CERN; nothing would happen without the people.”

Rachael and her teacher colleagues have prepared a comprehensive guide for other art and science teachers to set up the installation in their own schools. It’s intended to be an interdisciplinary spark for curious minds.

Of course, there’s some serious science underpinning the artistic concept, but it’s also great fun; who knew that watching a group of physicists attempting to play Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star on a theremin could be so entertaining?

The project is part of the Art@CMS programme.

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