CERN@school shoots for the stars

CERN technology will be taking a stellar journey as the Langton Ultimate Cosmic ray Intensity Detector (LUCID) is launched into space in 2012. LUCID has been designed by students from the CERN@school programme using Timepix chips from the Medipix Collaboration at CERN.


CERN@school students present LUCID. 

In today’s educational environment, a pioneering school physics programme that involves students in authentic research seems unlikely. But in the UK, the CERN@school programme is providing the resources for school students to do just that. “We develop projects which allow students to work alongside scientists and engineers before they go to university,” says Becky Parker, head of the Langton Star Centre and founder of the CERN@school programme. “Thanks to these programmes, students can make a genuine contribution to global scientific research. LUCID is the culmination of three years of efforts by the students.”

Surrey Satellite Technology Limited, one of the key developers of the project, will be launching LUCID on board TechDemoSat-1 - an industry-led satellite which will be one of the first projects to use the UK Space Agency’s International Space Innovation Centre. LUCID will examine the subtler aspects of cosmic rays and monitor radiation for NASA. Its data will be compared with CERN@school’s Earth-bound detectors, smaller versions of LUCID monitoring cosmic rays in 11 different schools across the UK. Not only is the project pioneering in its data collection, but LUCID will also provide the Timepix chips with a space qualification.

CERN@school has also benefited the teachers and scientists supporting the students. “When collaborating with our ‘young researchers’, scientists are often motivated to find new ways to participate in school science,” says Parker. “Meanwhile, our science teachers have been able to explore scientific research usually reserved for practising researchers - enhancing their knowledge of the subject, making them better teachers, and providing a new level of career development.” With good physics teachers becoming increasingly scarce in the UK, CERN@school is taking much needed steps to encourage and retain physics teachers – perhaps even inspiring researchers to consider a career in education!

While students are busy at work preparing LUCID for its launch in 2012, the Langton Star Centre is in discussion with ESA about a second stellar project. Plans for a “LUCID 2” are currently in development for the ESMO (European Student Moon Orbiter) satellite.

by Katarina Anthony