A beam line to inspire

Just as the sunshine seems to have arrived back at CERN, in other respects summer is coming to a close as we say our farewells to this year’s crop of summer students. This injection of young people – always a welcome feature in July and August at CERN – dates back to the early 1960s, when the Summer Student programme began under one of my predecessors Vicky Weisskopf.


The idea was to awaken the interest of undergraduates in CERN's activities by offering them the chance of hands-on experience during their long summer vacation. Around the same time, the CERN School of Physics began. Aimed at young postgraduates, it led to the current European School of High-Energy Physics and related schools in Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region. Over the years, it was joined by CERN schools on accelerator subjects and computing, which have expanded CERN’s training mandate.

These days, our efforts begin with young people before they go to university – often before they make the choices that set them on a particular career path. CERN engages through various programmes with school students of different ages, from primary school through to high school. We reach out to many through the High School Teachers’ programme, sowing seeds with the teachers that grow and flourish back in their own countries.

This summer – in the spirit of real hands-on experience – we have launched a new scheme, this time to encourage pre-university students to think about what it means to do an experiment, and in particular an experiment at CERN. The Beamline for Schools competition asked school-based teams to propose an experiment to be inserted into one of CERN’s test beams. Their proposals were to follow a similar procedure to all experiments at CERN, with the finalists being submitted to the SPSC for the selection of winners.

This coming week we’re welcoming the two winning teams to CERN, where they will work on their experiments. They will experience what it’s like to work in experimental particle physics – from the essential safety courses to the data analysis, sharing beam time, working with experts, and, importantly, mixing with others of different nationalities and cultures. The two teams have already begun collaborating to make the most efficient use of the beam time – another nice effect of this programme.

To support their proposals, the students had to make short videos, and it was remarkable to see how inspired by CERN they all were. After 60 years, CERN has become an inspiration beyond the limits of the particle physics community. I am confident it will continue to inspire new generations for many years to come.

Rolf Heuer