Pilot sessions of ALICE Masterclasses were held in Mexico City and in Puebla in the second half of October, giving the opportunity to high school students to become physicists for a day.
At UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Masterclasses were organised by the Institute of Nuclear Sciences and lasted two days. 40 high school students attended lectures on particle physics, on matter at extreme conditions of temperature and density and about the ALICE experiment, given by Eleazar Cuautle Flores, Antonio Ortiz Velasquez and Guy Paic. They also had the chance to visit the detector laboratory of the Institute and “see” cosmic rays with a spark chamber. In the afternoon they analysed ALICE data, looking for V0 decays of strange particles. In the first part of the exercise they analysed visually a small number of events and classified V0’s as kaons, lambdas or antilambdas, whereas in the second part they looked at higher statistics, with the aim to observe strangeness enhancement, one of the first signatures of the quark-gluon plasma.
At BUAP, the Benemerita Autonomous University of Puebla, the Masterclasses were organised by the Faculty of Physics and Mathematics. 55 students selected from five high schools and accompanied by their physics teachers spent a whole day at BUAP. In the morning they followed lectures by Mario Rodriguez Cahuantzi, Mario Ivan Martinez Hernandez and Irais Bautista Guzman. Then they visited the computer centre and the University library and in the afternoon they did the hands-on activity - the data analysis.
After the data analysis, the students had the chance to talk with Mexican physicists and people on shift in the ALICE Run Control Centre (ARC) via live video conference. “The interaction between the students and the physicists in the ARC was very lively. They all deeply enjoyed it.” – said Despina Hatzifotiadou, ALICE physicist and outreach coordinator, who participated in the organization and the conduction of the Masterclasses*. In the end of the day they all received presents from ALICE and from the University, as well as certificates for their participation.
Masterclass at BUAP, Puebla - the data analysis session.
The Masterclasses in Puebla were preceded by a press conference, organised by Arturo Fernadez Tellez, during which the Masterclasses in particle physics programme was presented to representatives of the media; this resulted in wide coverage of the event in local news websites.
In both cases, the help of masters’ students as tutors during the analysis session was invaluable. All participants – students, lecturers, tutors and organisers enjoyed the experience. It clearly involved quite some investment for the preparation, but the outcome was rewarding. After this, the two Mexican Institutes will be joining the International Masterclasses programme.
*The trip was financed by the EPLANET programme, the European Particle physics Latin America NETwork. It allocates funds to Latin American and European scientists from the high energy physics field, especially young scholars, to visit European and Latin American research institutions respectively. It also aims to establish bridges of communication, to consolidate the collaboration between the Latin American and the European high energy physics community and to provide advanced training to young researchers.