High School Students Meet the Rock Stars of Particle Physics

“What was involved in the search for the Higgs Boson particle and what does its discovery mean for physics?”

If you’ve ever pondered such mysteries of the universe, you’ll be happy to know that the top scientists in the world are on the case.

Late last month, 60 high school students outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania posed this question (and other, more conventional ones) to scientists performing the most advanced research in physics.

The students at Peters Township High School participated in an interactive Skype group video call with scientists from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research and Fermilab, the particle physics lab in Batavia, Illinois.

The two organizations work closely to run particle accelerators, such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), whereby atoms are smashed together in controlled experiments. According to Wikipedia, LHC was built “with the aim of allowing physicists to test the predictions of different theories of particle physics and high-energy physics. The LHC is expected to address some of the still unsolved questions of physics, advancing human understanding of physical laws.”

After submitting her profile to the Skype in the Classroom program, high school physics teacher Susan Hlebinsky was matched with scientists at CERN due to her district’s forward-thinking approach to technology and the makeup of her Honors and Advanced Placement classes.

In a surprise to all involved in the Skype video call, the CERN scientists Hans Peter Beck and Denis Oliveira Damazio called from the Atlas Control Room – the nerve center of the detector operations at CERN.

Reaching teachers as well as students

Hans Peter Beck of CERN noted that while it’s beneficial to speak to students, many of who will become the worlds’ foremost scientists in the coming years, speaking to teachers such as Susan Hlebinsky is equally important.

Beck noted, “The teachers in high schools and even universities are our amplifiers. Being able to speak to the front line teachers and inform them about our cutting edge research findings is invaluable.”

Both Fermilab and CERN are excited to try to do further Skype in the classroom sessions. At Fermilab specifically, Cook noted that the lab is always seeking new ways to connect with those interested in their work and Skype is a perfect medium to communicate as it requires little infrastructure to have a high-quality conversation and demonstration medium.