by Cristina Lazzeroni, Roman Lietava & Plamen Petrov. Published: 22 July 2011

High energy physics was put into the spotlight earlier this month at “Discovering Particles: Fundamental Building Blocks of the Universe”. Part of this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which attracted over 14,000 visitors - including members of the general public, students, teachers, scientists, policymakers and the media - who had a chance to try out the interactive exhibits and question the scientists themselves.

Karl Harrison/Discovering Particles

Visitors to the Discovering Particles exhibit enjoying taxing the experts with their questions

The exhibition, which was held from 5-10 July in the Royal Society's main premises in Central London, was prepared by the Elementary Particle Physics Group of the University of Birmingham - led by Cristina Lazzeroni and including Roman Lietava and Plamen Petrov - in collaboration with the High Energy Physics Group from the University of Cambridge.

Founded in November 1660, the Royal Society is a fellowship of the world's most influential scientists and is possibly the oldest scientific academy in existence. The Royal Society Science exhibition - the oldest science exhibition in the UK - was started by Royal Society Fellows in 1770 to demonstrate the latest in science and technology research.

The fundamental scientific research being done at CERN, and the LHC, has generated great interest towards nuclear and particle physics in the UK. The exhibition received a great deal of attention from members of the public, who demonstrated not only a good general knowledge of high energy physics, but also a strong interest in ALICE.

The visitors were encouraged to ask about ‘the flavour of the quark-gluon soup’ (one of the questions appearing on the stand), and were thrilled to learn that it was 'boiled' in the hot and dense environment of the early Universe.

“It was truly rewarding to introduce the public to the fascinating work that takes place at CERN and to see their excitement about our research at ALICE, and particularly by the tendency of our experiments to push the extremes," said Petrov.

The Discovering Particles team tackled all manner of mind-boggling questions from the public regarding the building blocks of the Universe and provided first-hand information about what it's like to work at CERN.

“It was an unusual but wonderful experience to discuss our work with so many people. I hope the visitors felt our excitement about Discovering Particles and they continue to keep their interest in physics,” says Roman Lietava.

The visitors were given the opportunity to take part in a variety of activities. They could choose from submitting real data for analysis on the Grid, observing the results they obtained; or studying the workings of a cloud or spark chamber, by detecting some of the particles that are constantly bombarding the Earth. For the youngest science enthusiasts, there were also plenty of interactive games and quizzes.

The enthusiasm of the visitors was shared by the organisers. “These are exciting times in particle physics. The exhibition was a fantastic opportunity to meet visitors and share the excitement of our latest research," said Lazzeroni.