Beaconsfield High School

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Sixth Formers visit Large Hadron Collider

By Mr Buxton, Physics teacher

During half term, myself and Mrs Manners took a group of 16 Physics students from years 12 & 13 to Geneva to visit the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. 

It was an early start, and some students were still only half awake at 5am when we met  at Heathrow! We reached CERN mid-morning giving us time to store our luggage before visiting the restaurant for lunch - mingling with the CERN scientists who use the same restaurant every day. Before our tour, the students had time to explore the two fixed exhibitions: Microcosm (which had exhibits such as a replica of the CMS detector and a cloud chamber to see the tracks of subatomic particles), and the Universe of Particles which gave an insight into the formation of the Universe and how the work at CERN helps us increase our understanding. 

The tour itself started with a short lecture on fundamental particle physics and how the Large Hadron Collider works to produce matter from the energy of colliding proton beams. A bus then hopped us across the border into France to visit part of the installation, where we saw some of the equipment used in the beam tube. We were able to see how the strong magnetic fields, which steer the protons in a circle, were produced. Finally we were taken to see the control room of one of the most recent detectors which is actually in the international space station. A highlight here was the full screen live TV feed from the space station showing the scientists at work, drifting in zero gravity.

In the evening the group headed to central Geneva for dinner (at expensive Swiss prices!), before returning to our accommodation, which was also on the CERN site and shared with other scientists.

The next day we headed to Geneva for a tour of the UN offices. The students found it extremely interesting to see the actual rooms where UN resolutions are debated, and learned all about how the seating arrangements are decided, amongst other things! Several students had previously participated in MUN events, and so were able to ask very perceptive questions of our guide. The main architectural highlight was the sculptured ceiling in the room where human rights issues, are discussed - beautifully coloured yet thought provoking. 

We had time before our flight home to allow the students to explore Geneva, visiting the Jet D'Eau fountain, or the historic areas such as the reformation wall monument, or attempting the Geneva treasure hunt walking tour. The year 13 contingent even found an out-of-the way restaurant with reasonable prices for their lunch, overlooking Lake Geneva. 

By the time we arrived back at Heathrow, all the students were very tired but had enjoyed the experience. They had behaved themselves impeccably throughout, and had arrived punctually at every meeting point. I can honestly say it was a pleasure to have led such a superb group of students on our first such trip, and hope to be able to offer the same experience to other A-level Physics students in future years.