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The Hayesbrook School

A Brook Learning Trust Academy

A-Level Students Investigate Particle Physics on Amazing CERN Trip​​​​​​​

What is the universe made of? What are the fundamental laws of nature? If the answer is 42, then what is the question?

Hayesbrook students studying A-level physics were seeking answers to these eternal questions on a recent visit to CERN, on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. CERN houses the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments used to study the fundamental particles which make up our universe. The most famous of these instruments is the Large Hadron Collider; where protons and heavy nuclei are accelerated around a 27-kilometre circular tunnel deep beneath the Alps. These particles are then smashed into each other, almost at the speed of light. By this process many new fundamental particles have been discovered, including the ‘Higgs Boson’ in July 2012.

Our student physicists were guided through a fantastic tour of the ATLAS control centre, operating fully as we looked on. We were also taken to other integral services within the CERN campus, for example the Cryogenic Test Facility were liquid Helium is taken down to ‑271.3°C – a temperature colder than outer space. Fascinating Fact: The helium gas used in these important scientific experiments, along with countless medical MRI scanners worldwide, is a finite resource on Earth. It is very difficult to recapture if it escapes. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. So limit your use of party balloons!!

Following a delicious yet expensive CERN lunch (think of the canteen in The Big Bang Theory, only with pâtisserie…), the students were required to build their own rudimentary cloud-chamber. This piece of equipment is used to visualise the paths of just a fraction of the millions of invisible particles passing through us each second. The world-class particle physicist who led this session was very impressed with our students’ prior knowledge in this field.

Two days in Geneva also allowed the students to explore the city, navigate an assortment of free public transport and indulge in a little of the beautiful alpine scenery and culture. At the Hotel Edelweiss we enjoyed an evening of fondue, rösti, cornichons, (and burger ‘n’ chips for some…) while a folk band provided live yodelling, coin rolling, and a few loud blasts on the alphorn.

Here are some quotes from the students who went on our trip to CERN and Geneva:

"I had an awesome time and it was great fun to be out and about somewhere new! I wish we could have stayed longer"


"It was a great experience, a once in a life time opportunity"


"It was genuinely fascinating to learn the true extent of human capabilities to use both their intellect and initiative to produce something wonderful"


"It was very interesting trip and great to learn outside of the classroom in a fun way. It was very interesting to see how the Large Hadron Collider works"

If you would have ever wondered what a quark actually is or how much a muon weighs, but were afraid to ask, then test one of our A-level physics students!