Local school children curious about CMS

Imagine the scene: about 20-30 schoolchildren aged 8-11 and about 1.25 m tall; a couple of adults, let’s say on average 1.75 m tall, and then one high-energy physics experiment 15 m tall. This is what you could have seen on 2, 6 and 9 February in the CMS cavern, as two local schools participated in the “Be a scientist!” programme.


"I think they've got it..."

Two classes from the primary school in the village of Cessy, where CMS is located, took part in the visits on 2 and 9 February, and all 36 pupils from CM2 (Year 6) at the Ecole des Bois in nearby Ornex took part in the visit on 6 February. “They asked so many questions,” says Sandrine Saison Marsollier, CERN’s educational officer for the local community, who accompanied some of the classes to CMS. “Most of them had practical questions about what they saw, for example how big and how heavy the experiment is, and which bit goes where. But some seemed to know already about what the experiment does. One boy asked how fast the particles travel in the beam pipe – we were very impressed!”

The children are participating in the “Be a scientist!” programme which aims to teach primary school children about experimental methods. Organised jointly by CERN, Geneva University's “PhysiScope” group, the education authorities of the Pays de Gex (Inspection de l’éducation nationale) and Geneva (Service de la coordination pédagogique de l’enseignement primaire) and Geneva University's Faculty of Science and Education, it combines real experimental work in the classroom with visits to either CERN experiments or the Physiscope at the University of Geneva. More than 750 children from the Pays de Gex and Geneva are taking part in what is now the third year of the programme. The children communicate the results of their experiments with each other via a website moderated by physicists, educationalists and teachers, and also get to interview scientists to compare their own experiments and methods with real scientific research.

“I’d like to say a big thank you to all the physicists and engineers who are participating in the programme and taking the children to the experiments,” says Sandrine. “They’re busy people, but they still take the time to act as guides, and many seem to enjoy it.”

One such person is Alexandre Zabi, a physicist with CNRS' Laboratoire Leprince-Ringuet and the ECAL trigger coordinator at CMS, who accompanied two of the recent visits. “I like trying to find ways of explaining something very complicated to small children,” he says. “When you can see in their eyes that they’ve got it, it’s really special. It just gives me goose bumps.”

by Joannah Caborn Wengler