by Polly Bennett. Published: 16 March 2012

22 schoolchildren from Ecoles des Grand Chênes, Prevessin visited ALICE last week as part of CERN’s local communication programme 'Dans la peau d’un chercheur' (In the Skin of a Researcher). The programme, first launched in January 2011, introduces children to the principles of the scientific method. They first conduct a project in the classroom before visiting a scientific research centre, such as CERN or the PhysiScope in Geneva, to quiz ‘real life’ researchers about their scientific practices. “This project is to make children work as researchers, searching in a scientific way,” explains Sandrine Saison-Marsollier, CERN local communications.

Polly Bennett

Nicolas Arbor as a guide in the Point 2 exhibition

In the classroom project the children are provided with ‘mystery boxes’ containing a variety of unknown contents. They must exercise their analytical skills to discover what is inside without opening the box. They test things such as weight, smell, and sound in both mystery and empty boxes. This introduces them to the concepts of hypotheses, experiments, observation, and interpretation, and allows them to put these concepts into practice; promoting the idea of learning through experiment rather than theory. It is hoped the project offers a parallel with the research methods in high energy physics, using the ‘mystery boxes’ of CERN’s LHC experiments to discover what is inside matter.

Polly Bennett

Several schoolchildren in the lift on the way down to the ALICE experiment

On March 8th excited pupils, from 9 – 11 in age, were greeted at point 2 by ALICE Outreach Coordinator Despina Hatzifotiadou, ALICE PhD student Nicolas Arbor, and researcher Daniele De Gruttola. Amid many exclamations and gasps of amazement, Nicolas Arbor enthusiastically introduced the children to the basic structure and science of CERN. Nicolas commented, “It was a nice surprise to see how children could be interested in particle physics and I was as impressed by their questions as by the relative quiet in the room.” The children were indeed attentive and keen to learn from Nicolas, who expertly and humorously dealt with the many questions he received from the class.

Polly Bennett

The children at the Muon Tracking System with guide Daniele De Gruttola

Following the presentation was the relative chaos of taking the children to the ALICE exhibition and the experiment itself; a process that was accompanied by much giggling, jumping around, and photos. The morning ended with the opportunity for the children to ask researchers questions, such as:

- How heavy is an atom?

- Do you think about what’s inside quarks?

- How much do researchers earn?

- Do you have holidays?

Polly Bennett

Nicolas Arbor giving the children a presentation at Point 2

In the summer all participating schools will be invited for a conference style meet up at CERN where they will present posters on their work in the classroom project. They will also have the opportunity to meet more scientists and discuss the project with other schoolchildren.

Polly Bennett

Daniele De Gruttola with a group at the detector

Dans la peau d’un chercheur is a joint venture between CERN; the local education authorities in the Pays de Gex; Geneva’s Service de la coordination pédagogique de l’enseignement primaire; and the Faculty of Education and PhysiScope group of the University of Geneva – and is a follow up to 2010’s successful ‘Draw me a physicist’ programme, which was also undertaken in conjunction with local schools. For more information visit: