UK school visit: Alfriston School for girls

Pupils with learning disabilities from Alfriston School in the UK visited the CMS detector last week. This visit was funded by the UK's Science and Technologies Facilities Council (STFC) as part of a grant awarded to support activities that will help to build the girls’ self-esteem and interest in physics.


Alfriston School students at CMS.

On Friday, 10 October, pupils from Alfriston School – a UK secondary school catering for girls with a wide range of special educational needs and disabilities – paid a special visit to CERN.

Dave Waterman, a science teacher at the school, recently received a Public Engagement Small Award from the STFC, which enabled the group of girls and accompanying teachers to travel to Switzerland and visit CERN. The awards form part of a project to boost the girls’ confidence and interest in physics. The aim is to create enthusiastic role models with first-hand experience of science who can inspire their peers back home.

By building pupils' self-esteem with regards to learning science, the project further aims to encourage students to develop the confidence to go on to study subjects related to science or engineering when they leave school.

Waterman first visited CERN as part of the UK Teachers Programme in December 2013, which was when the idea of bringing his pupils over for a visit was first suggested. "The main challenge with a visit of this kind is finding how to engage the pupils who don’t have much knowledge of maths," said Waterman. Dave Barney, a member of the CMS collaboration, rose to the challenge, hitting the level spot on with a short and engaging introductory talk just before the detector visit. Chemical-engineering student Olivia Bailey, who recently completed a year-long placement at CERN, accompanied the students on the visit. "Being involved in this outreach project was really fun," she said. "It was a great way of using my experience at CERN and sharing it with others."

For one pupil – Laura – this was her first journey out of England and her first time on a plane. "The whole trip has been so exciting," she said. "My highlight was seeing the detector because it was so much bigger than what I thought." Other students were similarly impressed, expressing surprise and awe as they entered the detector area.

by Sophie Louise Hetherton