by Despina Hatzifotiadou. Published: 01 March 2014

During a period of four weeks every year (from 12.3 until 12.4 for 2014), more than 10 000 high school students in 40 countries get out of school for a day and go to a nearby University or research centre. There they spend a day of immersion in particle physics. They follow lectures on the physics of the elementary constituents of matter, on particle detectors and accelerators; they get “hands-on” experience by analysing real data from LHC experiments and perform measurements. At the end of the day they join a videoconference and discuss their results with CERN moderators and students in other institutes in different cities. In this way they get a taste of research by international collaborations, they get inspired and some of them end up choosing to study physics.

The programme of the International Masterclasses in Particle Physics has grown enormously during the ten years of its existence; the high demand for participation by school children can not always be satisfied. An alternative is for scientists to go to schools – as long as they are equipped with computers - and do the masterclasses there.

Going in this direction, Maria Tsakiri, head of the Physical Sciences School Laboratories Centre of Eastern Thessaloniki, organised a special event, “Advanced lessons in particle physics – Masterclasses –Teachers’ day” on Tuesday 11 February 2014, in the 1st Vocational Lyceum of Kalamaria. The aim was twofold: to raise awareness among physics teachers and to make a feasibility test. Technical support was offered by the Centre of Information Technology of Eastern Thessaloniki (many thanks are due to G. Nikolaidis, I. Papagiannakelis and D. Tsakonas for their dedicated work and invaluable help).

The morning lectures were attended by more than 100 high school students and 60 physics teachers. Christos Eleftheriadis, associate professor at the University of Thessaloniki , talked about particle physics and cosmology, CERN and the LHC; Despina Hatzifotiadou from INFN, talked about the ALICE experiment. A virtual visit of ALICE followed. Connected via vidyo from the ALICE cavern, P. Charitos and A. Fernandez Tellez showed to the Greek audience what the real experiment looks like and informed them about installation work during the LHC shutdown.

In the afternoon, the teachers worked in groups of two on data analysis, helped by D. Iliadis and D. Sampsonidou (from AUTH), Dr K. Philippidis (physics teacher) and D.H. In two computer rooms they spent three hours analysing ALICE data from proton and lead ion collisions, identifying strange hadrons (K0s, Λ) and eventually observing strangeness enhancement, one of the first signatures of the quark gluon plasma.

The event was quite successful, the ALICE masterclasses software ran smoothly and all the computers behaved impeccably! At the end of the day participants and organisers seemed exhausted but content.