by Virginia Greco. Published: 09 May 2017

With its first Masterclasses event held by St. Petersburg State University last March, Russia is the 52nd country joining this international programme.

For the first time, this year International Masterclasses in particle physics were also held in Russia, which is now the 52nd country joining this educational programme for high-school students. The St. Petersburg State University (SPbSU) organized three such events - which took place on March 6, 17 and 27 – including a lecture session and hands-on activities, where the pupils could “play” with real data from the ALICE or LHCb experiment.

Grigory Feofilov, head of the laboratory of Superhigh-Energy Physics of SPbSU and member of the ALICE collaboration, introduced the students to particle physics, the research conducted at the LHC and the ALICE detector. Then the pupils analyzed data from ALICE to look for strange particles produced in heavy-ion collisions, with the help of dedicated software and the guidance of another two scientists of the laboratory, Vladimir Kovalenko and Igor Altsybeev. Even though the tools used and the collision events selected for Masterclasses are simplified, the concepts at the basis of this exercise are the same as those of physics analysis carried out by particle physicists. In addition, the data are real (not simulated).

Once the measurements were performed, the students participated in an international videoconference with moderators at CERN and classes in other countries involved in the same Masterclasses programme. This allowed them to share and comment on their results, as well as to ask questions to CERN’s scientists.

Great satisfaction about this first-time-in-Russia event was expressed by Feofilov, who explained that it was possible thanks to the work done by the SPbSU together with Russian schools exclusively on a voluntary basis. “I hope that participation of our senior students in international masterclasses will become a tradition,” he commented, “and that we will be able to ‘infect’ with particle physics pupils from different cities of Russia”.

International Masterclasses are run regularly since 2005. Over the years they have expanded and nowadays they are held at about 200 institutes spread in 52 countries and engage every year thousands of students at the age of 16-19 years. The main goal of this activity is to make the students feel real scientists for a day and, hopefully, push them towards a career in particle physics. All four experiments of LHC take part in the programme, each one with its own hands-on analysis activity, but aimed at the same objective.

This year a special session of Masterclasses only for girls was also organized on February 11th, declared International Day of Women and Girls in Science in 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly, in order to support and promote the access of women to science education and research.

Schools aiming at making this experience can find all the information on the website.