by Panos Charitos. Published: 16 October 2013

“A long time ago - and yet perhaps it wasn't such a very long time ago“…that’s how many traditionally told stories start and it could be the opening for the story of Varvakeio’s High School visit to ALICE.

Ten students from Varvakeio High School and their teacher, Andreas Valadakis, who holds a PhD in heavy-ion physics, organized a summer trip to CERN. Andreas and his students have formed the “Electrons and Galaxies” research team that meets once a week out of school hours to perform physics experiments and discuss the latest scientific discoveries. A visit to CERN offered a unique opportunity to meet and discuss with scientists who work in the frontiers of science. “We came up with the idea to visit CERN after the first six, seven sessions. We, of course, continued doing experiments in the lab, but we also started looking up CERN’s history,” says Valadakis. “My aim was to nudge students towards understanding the collective human effort being made at the world’s largest physics laboratory in pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge”.

During their two days visit, students had the chance to visit the ALICE and CMS caverns as well as the Proton Synchrotron, the workforce of CERN’s accelerator complex and the superconducting magnet testing facility. Their visit to CERN started with the ALICE experiment where Despina Hatzifotiadou introduced them to the physics programme of ALICE and the intriguing world of quarks and gluons and explained the role of the ALICE subdetectors.

However, their experience from CERN wasn’t limited to these two days. Filmmaker Stella Tsikrika worked closely with the students and came up with a short video that documents their visit. It reflects on the preparation back in the school’s lab and shares the excitement they had through the activities in which they were engaged at CERN.

In that sense, this video could be considered not merely an outcome but also part of their visit as it offered a unique medium that allowed students to express their thoughts and recall some of the important moments of their visit to CERN. Perhaps, the best epilogue comes in the words of Andreas Valadakis: “It’s especially important for young people at high school age… to be in such a place and see that people like them have managed to accomplish so much. My students got a lot out of it for sure, and I certainly did too”.

The project shows an innovative way in which teachers and students can be involved in science and get the most out of a visit to CERN. We look forward to seeing more students visiting ALICE and we hope that similar projects will spark their interest in science and in scientific careers.