Published: 30 July 2016

Kevin Richard Coulombe is a high school teacher, working with Dr. Jennifer Klay from the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo, USA. He is the main organiser of an outreach programme in California, aimed at high school students. Thanks to his programme this year his students had the pleasure of attending an ALICE Strange Particle Enhancement masterclass in March. They also conduct research during the school year, which they present at Cal Poly during a Poster Conference. Last year he brought 8 of his students to CERN for a short period of time. They attended summer student lectures, toured the facilities and spent time in the ALICE Run Control Centre. They also worked on a Python coding routine which had them determine the number of participant nucleons in a collision, based on the centrality of the collision. This year he came back with three of his students, who stayed at CERN for two weeks.

This is what Andie Ripprecht and Eric Rinell, two of the visiting students, shared about their experience and how it will affect their future plans:

“Visiting and working at CERN has been such an incredible experience for me. I have always had a strong interest in science, but had doubts about pursuing a career in a science field. Going on this trip really opened my eyes to how diverse the science community is. Even just wandering around the cafeteria was interesting, hearing the multitude of languages being spoken, as people from all walks of life were collaborating, arguing, and laughing over a variety of topics. All these people from across the globe were united by a genuine interest and passion for science. Getting to talk to so many physicists and hear about their experiences and jobs wasreally beneficial for me.

Saying I want to be a scientist, or more specifically, a physicist, has always been such an abstract concept. It sounds like a nice idea, but I never really had a solid understanding of what it takes to be a scientist and what sort of jobs were available for someone who wanted to become one. After getting to witness daily life at CERN, I have come away with a much better idea of what opportunities and jobs are out there.

The whole trip has been amazing, and I have learned so much from it. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite moment or experience. I really enjoyed getting to build a muon telescope, and it was even more incredible to think that something I helped create is going to be used to gather actual data and help other students like me get involved in physics. Sitting in on the morning lectures was a neat experience. While the majority of the lectures were quite daunting and well over my head, it was always exciting whenever I understood a topic or even just recognized what the lecturer was talking about. All in all, I had a great time and have gained a better understanding and appreciation for the physics world.”

“This fall, I’ll begin my education at California Polytechnic State University studying materials engineering. When I decided to apply for that field of study nine months ago, I was unsure whether it was the right choice. My experience at CERN helped me to develop confidence that I will succeed in my field and it has given me some ideas of what to pursue within materials engineering. I really appreciated that our mentors put our learning at such a high priority.

Because of them, I was able to learn about the particle physics behind muon detection, in addition to the physical construction of the detectors. I thoroughly enjoyed how hands on and how physically demanding our tasks were at times. After our work on the detectors was done, we got to do some visiting. Among the facilities we toured, my experience at SM18 was especially inspiring to me for my future in engineering. I was able to understand why certain materials were being used for superconductors over more impressive recent technologies, and I saw how much effort had gone into making these magnets as precise as possible. Overall, my time at CERN rekindled a passion for learning, especially in science and math. And maybe if I come back in a few years, I’ll finally be able to understand the summer student lectures.”