No fewer than 21 students, all aged 15-18, and two staff travelled to Switzerland where they discovered how CERN is helping to answer some of the most fundamental questions on the planet such as how did the Universe begin and what are the basic building blocks of matter.
Scientific breakthroughs such as the discovery of the Higgs boson require experimental machines on the large scale, and the students gained an appreciation of the technical and engineering challenges that the multinational experimental collaborations at CERN face.
Amongst the history-defining experiences the students sampled included seeing 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’, a room resembling NASA mission control where students viewed telemetry from a satellite orbiting the Earth, and ‘visiting’ the hottest and the coldest place in the universe in the space of four hours.
Shaun Reynolds, Teacher of Maths/Physics/Computer Science at Trent College, led the trip. He admits for some students the trip was probably life-changing.
Mr Reynolds said: “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.”
As part of their trip to Switzerland, the Trent College students also visited the UN. Mr Reynolds added: “I can’t help but look back and wonder what has transpired in some of those rooms we sat in since our visit to the UN, given what has happened in the world in that short time.
“What makes the CERN institute so special is not all the expensive equipment, but the endeavour of those people who work there and the governments who fund the facility, to set aside their differences for science’s sake.
“The spirit of international co-operation is the founding principle of CERN and the primary reason for its success, and I can’t think of anything better than a visit to the UN to underline that point to the students.”
For more information about Trent College visit www.trentcollege.net