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San Anton Physics teacher invited to CERN.


Elaine Grech a Physics teacher in the Senior Sector was recently chosen as one of 36 Maltese Physics teachers to visit CERN ( The European Organisation for Nuclear Physics.) as part of an initiative of the CERN Teacher Support Program

CERN was founded in 1954 and has become a prime example of international collaboration, with currently 20 member States. It is the biggest particle physics laboratory in the world, and sits astride the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva.

“Being chosen was already a great privilege. Yet being there for 5 days, listening to lectures on particle physics and visiting centres was even more,” commented Ms. Grech upon her return.

“Presently CERN is mainly known for the LHC, which is the Large Hadron Collider. It is a machine installed 100 to 150 m below the ground and 27 km in circumference. Very soon (19th November 2009), the LHC will be used to accelerate two beams of particles (protons) in opposite directions to more than 99.9 % the speed of light. Smashing the protons together creates showers of new particles for physicists to study, which will make further progress in understanding the mysteries of matter making up our Universe and how it came to be.

Since work has started already on the LHC, we were not able to go below ground level due to high magnetic fields. However we were able to see the construction of the collider at the workshop. We also saw the quadropole magnets, which direct the motion of the particles into bunches just a few microns wide and the superconducting fibres, which are cooled down to -271?C by using super fluid helium.

The three lectures we attended, given by Prof. Rolf Landau were a detailed description of different particles such as, protons, neutrons, photons, quarks, neutrinos, muons including their structure, mass, electric charge and energy. He also spoke about what antimatter is, how it is made and the mystery of its disappearance after the Big Bang. In fact observations have shown that all of the visible matter accounts for only 4% of the Universe. The search is open for particles and phenomena responsible for 23% of dark matter and 73% of dark energy.

Another interesting part of the lecture was about vacuum. Vacuum is actually anything but empty. According to the theory of the Higgs mechanism (by Peter Higgs) the whole of space is filled with a Higgs field and by interacting with this field, particles acquire their masses. The Higgs field has at least one new particle associated with it, the Higgs boson. This is one of the particles that the physicists might be able to detect when using the LHC.

After these three lectures, we had a hands on experiment and built our own Cloud Chamber. With this Cloud Chamber we were able to see the path taken by the protons and electrons. It was amazing experience.

One must keep in mind that CERN is not only about particle physics and the LHC. It is also advancing in the research at the frontiers of technology and engineering. The World Wide Web (www.) was invented in 1999 at CERN by Tim Berners Lee to help particle physicists around the world to communicate. CERN is also leading work to create a ‘computing GRID’ that will harness vast amounts of computer power through networks across the world.

Another centre that we visited was the computer centre. It is a huge building (as big as our Senior Sector) filled with CPU’s from top to bottom.

Last but not least, CERN is also training the young scientists and engineers who will eventually be the experts of tomorrow. In fact the whole idea of the Teacher Support Program (by Mick Storr) was conceived to enable us physics teachers who attended, to go back to our schools and tell our students all about CERN. I’m sure this would kindle interest in our students.

Who knows, perhaps in years to come, a student from San Anton will find his way as physicist or engineer at CERN,” concluded Ms. Grech.


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