Particle Physics and Accelerators Masterclasses 2024 at Daresbury Laboratory and Beyond

Daresbury Laboratory and the Cockcroft Institute (CI) have hosted the highly successful annual Particle Physics and Accelerators Masterclasses (APPMC), one of their flagship annual outreach events, for many years. The event aims to inspire and encourage future generations to pursue careers in physics, engineering, technology, clinical sciences, and therapeutic radiography.

Revd Canon Dr Mike Kirby welcoming the students to the cathedral. (Image credit: QUASAR Group)

This year marked a pioneering move as they expanded to host one event at Daresbury and another in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the QUASAR Group from Liverpool University’s Physics Department, and Liverpool Cathedral, introducing cutting-edge Physics research and development to the renowned Liverpool Cathedral. The Cathedral, celebrating the hundredth anniversary since its consecration in 1924, serves as a symbol of convergence—a site where worship, education, and presently, the exploration of scientific knowledge, intertwine.

On March 5th, the educational physics event titled “Shining a Light on Particle Physics and Accelerators” took place, offering 100 sixth form students from schools and colleges across the region the chance to explore Liverpool Cathedral and learn about cutting-edge research and development in Particle Physics and Accelerators.

Alex Bainbridge from STFC presented an insightful talk through a virtual tour of the CLARA particle accelerator in Daresbury. (Image credit: QUASAR Group)

This unique initiative aimed to create a world-first experience – a Physics Masterclass conducted within the historic and inspiring environment of a cathedral.

The day’s schedule was structured to offer a comprehensive learning experience, commencing with a welcome and introduction by the Revd Canon Dr. Mike Kirby, a Senior Lecturer in Radiotherapy Physics and Canon Scientist at Liverpool Cathedral. The Masterclass featured presentations from experts such as Prof Fred Loebinger, Prof Julia Handley, and Prof Carsten Welsch, covering topics ranging from the basics of sub-atomic particles and the application of Proton and Ion Beam Therapy all the way to research into antimatter. Additionally, the day included online tours, hands-on group activities, and virtual reality exploration of Radiotherapy using the VERT system. Attendees had ample opportunity to engage with experts, pose questions, and gain insights into the latest advancements in physics research.

Live virtual tour of the UKRI-STFC Boulby Underground Laboratory.

This event, in addition to the Masterclass at Daresbury Laboratory, was strategically situated in the core of the Northwest and Merseyside regions, guaranteeing accessibility for schools and colleges in the vicinity.

The Masterclass in the morning was followed by the public event titled ‘Beyond Boundaries: A Dialogue on Science and Faith’, organized by the QUASAR Group. Accelerator physicists, particle physicists and theologians got together to discuss the common ground between science, philosophy, and religion. This event was fully booked and open to all people and not restricted to any particular faith.

The feedback from the event was incredibly positive. Over 90% of the participants indicated that they would be interested in attending similar events in the future. One participant remarked, “I was not aware of many things that were discussed. This event was an eye opener for me and gave me more curiosity on everything relating to physics and the FCC.”Another attendee added,”The discussions gave me a pause for thought on my scepticism towards scientists with deep religious faith. This caused me to consider looking at my own prejudices.”

More information on the evening event can be found here.

The second part of the APPMC was held on 12th March at Daresbury Laboratory and the Cockcroft Institute (CI). This year was the first time that this event was hosted on site since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

ASTeC and CI volunteers deliver vacuum demonstrations to visiting students. (Image credit: STFC/ASTeC)

The CI welcomed more than 100 students and teachers from seven local schools to the lab. The day began with an opening talk by Dr Alex Bainbridge on the history and development of particle accelerators at Daresbury, followed by a talk on the science of electromagnetism. Live links followed with Boulby Underground Laboratory to learn about the experiments being conducted there. Students were then treated to guided tours of the CLARA particle accelerator, the VISTA laboratory, and the Dune detector manufacturing facility. They also participated in hands-on demos of vacuum science, superconductivity, and electrostatic acceleration and had the chance to discuss their future career options with graduates and apprentices.

Demonstration of the Meissner effect. (Image credit: STFC/ASTeC)

The day was finished by a pair of quick-fire talks delivered by Dr Andy Blackett-May (on cryogenics) and Dr Calum Tollervey (on lasers), and a talk from guest lecturer Prof Fred Loebinger, who recounted the story of how quarks, gluons and the Higgs boson were discovered.

The masterclass was organised by Dr Alex Bainbridge (ASTeC) with support from Wendy Cotterill (Daresbury public engagement) as well as many volunteers from across the Cockcroft Institute.