Published: 16 February 2015

Each year in spring, research institutes and universities around the world invite high-school students for a day-long programme to experience life at the forefront of basic research. These International Masterclasses give students the opportunity to be particle physicists for a day by analysing real data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. The Masterclasses this year are organized in the period February 25 - April 2 and will attract students from 42 countries worldwide.

Particle physics is one of the most important emerging fields in science. The discovery of the Higgs boson at the LHC in summer 2012 led to a huge media echo and large public interest. International Masterclasses meet this interest and offer high-school students the chance to explore this field of cutting edge physics: They can work with recent data from experiments at the LHC. The basic idea of the annual programme is to let students work as much as possible like real scientists. “Students get to find out about the reality of science by working directly with particle physicists. In International Masterclasses they get a taste of how modern research in physics works,” says Michael Kobel, physics professor from Technical University Dresden and head of the programme.

The four big LHC experiments - ATLAS, CMS, ALICE, and LHCb - have made data available for educational use within the programme. Students examine the products of collisions between elementary particles that travel through the 27-kilometre accelerator at close to the speed of light. A wide range of study tasks is available. For example, students can rediscover the Z boson or the structure of the proton, reconstruct “strange particles” or measure the lifetime of the D0 particle. One of the highlights is of course the hunt for Higgs bosons. ATLAS and CMS have made available real Higgs candidate events for students to track this rare, elusive, and very short-lived particle.

Scientists at about 210 universities and laboratories in 42 countries worldwide host International Masterclasses at their home institutions. New participants in the programme come from Morocco. The worldwide participation reflects the international collaboration in particle physics. Students can experience this aspect in a video conference concluding their research day. In a video linkup with student groups in other countries and CERN or Fermilab (Batavia, Illinois, U.S.) participants present their findings - much as particle physicists do in their collaborations. Thus they are allowed to gain insight into the organization of modern research in an authentic environment.

ALICE is participating in the International Masterclasses programme during five days this year (3, 13, 20, 27 and 28 March), offering a total of 20 Masterclasses. 17 Institutes have invited students for the day; they will have the opportunity to analyze real ALICE data, look for strange particles and observe strangeness enhancement in lead collisions; or to count charged particles, calculate the nuclear modification factor and observe differences in particle production in proton-proton and lead-lead collisions. Despina Hatzifotiadou, ALICE Outreach Coordinator, is looking forward to the event: “The students love the programme. They can work with real data from ALICE and get a glimpse at how a scientific discovery can be claimed.” 

International Masterclasses are led by Technical University Dresden and QuarkNet, in close cooperation with the International Particle Physics Outreach Group (IPPOG). IPPOG is an independent group of outreach representatives from countries involved in the research at CERN and other leading research laboratories. The group’s goal is to make particle physics more accessible to the public.


For further information:

International Masterclasses:

Schedule (videoconferences with CERN):