How did the universe begin? What are the basic building blocks of matter? Two staff members and 21 students aged 15-18 from Trent College, travelled to Switzerland to visit CERN and find out how the company is helping to answer some of the most fundamental questions on the planet.
Scientific breakthroughs such as the discovery of the Higgs Boson require experimental machines on a large scale and the students gained an appreciation of the technical and engineering challenges that the multinational experimental collaborations at CERN face.
Amongst the plethora of scientific secrets that the students were able to see was the world’s first internet server – a beaten up electrical box in a glass case complete with hand-written note reading: ‘This is an Internet Server – Do NOT power down’. They also saw a room resembling NASA mission control where they viewed telemetry from a satellite orbiting the Earth and even ‘visited’ the hottest and the coldest places in the universe in the space of four hours.
Teacher of maths, physics and computer science at Trent College, and leader of the trip, Shaun Reynolds said that for some students the trip was a life-changing experience: “CERN is the world’s foremost research facility, pushing the boundaries of almost every branch of science you can think of. Fortunately at Trent College we get these wonderful opportunities from time to time. It’s important for students to know they can make a difference in the world. We want to inspire students to not just study science, but to take ownership of it in the future.
“Everyone who has worked at CERN or any other modern scientific institute was once a 15-year-old sitting in a classroom somewhere, marvelling at the scientific discoveries of the day and probably wondering if the science they were learning was going anywhere – never dreaming they would change the world with their ideas.
“Somebody has to take on these responsibilities in the future and as our CERN representatives told us in their parting message, they brought us there because they need some of the students to take over from them in the future.”
The UK has been a member of CERN since the organisation was founded in 1954. The Trent College visit was led by a member of the CERN community who talked from personal experience about their contribution to CERN’s research programme.
Professor John Womersley, chief executive officer, Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), said: “The scale of the science and technology at CERN is awe-inspiring. There is no doubt that seeing it at first hand and meeting the people who work on the experiments can influence young people’s future education and career choices. My own research career began at CERN and I continue to be fascinated by its discoveries.”