CERN Accelerating science

Inauguration of the S'cool Lab

On 3 July 2014, the new CERN “S’cool Lab” was inaugurated, occupying about 200 m2 in the lower part of the Microcosm building. The idea behind S’cool Lab is to allow groups of school students visiting CERN to become acquainted with experiments crucial for the development of particle physics, and with modern technologies that are used today in LHC detectors.

The idea of a dedicated school laboratory at CERN dates back more than 10 years. A generous donation by the Loterie Romande in 2013 finally allowed this project to be accomplished, which was managed by CERN’s education and outreach group (DG-EDU), with Sascha Schmeling as project leader, assisted by two doctoral students, Jeff Wiener and Julia Woithe.

Today, the S’cool Lab offers the possibility to perform 15 different experiments, spanning the range from early atomic and particle physics to today’s LHC technology.  “One of our motivations was to allow students to repeat early landmark experiments – electron beam tubes, radiation detection, the Franck-Hertz and Rutherford experiment, or the photoelectric effect – that provided the experimental evidence leading to the development of quantum physics. We want to show that at microscopic scales, matter behaves surprisingly different from what classical physics would predict” says Rolf Landua, Head of the DG-EDU group. “It is unfortunate that modern physics only plays a minor role in school curricula and that most schools do not have the resources to provide their students with such a laboratory. As a result, most graduates leave school with the scientific view of 19th century physics.”

Other S’cool Lab experiments allow to study superconductivity, a Paul trap to confine charged particles, or to use an X-ray source that is completely safe for school use.   Particle detection is introduced by looking at cosmic ray tracks in a large diffusion cloud chamber, which can then be followed by building small ‘do-it-yourself’ cloud chamber. Furthermore, students can learn about LHC pixel detector technology using the MediPix detector; or study cosmic rays with a scintillator coincidence experiment (CosMO), or a Cerenkov detector (KamioKanne).

Rolf adds: “By combining e.g. the X-ray source with the MediPix detector, students can take very high resolution X-ray images, showcasing the potential for medical applications of these technologies. Furthermore, a two-gamma coincidence detector helps to understand the principle of PET scanners, which were also pioneered with the help of CERN.”

After an initial test period, school classes visiting CERN can book the S’cool Lab for half a day. Most experiments are available in two or three copies, so that two or three small groups (3-5 students) can work on the same type of experiment and compare their results.  The students will be supervised by their teachers and by 2-3 S’cool Lab supervisors from CERN who will ensure that the experiments run smoothly.

Since the S’cool Lab also features state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment, each experiment station can display its result on a large screen in front of the room, allowing the students to present and discuss their conclusions with their peers. Furthermore, video conferencing technology enables schools that did not have the chance to visit CERN to watch and work with their colleagues on these experiments.

Currently, Julia and Jeff are testing and fine-tuning the experiments, to develop instructions and documentation sheets for future users and supervisors. Watch the a video showing the construction and installation of the S’cool Lab, which will soon be filled with students and teachers eager to find out more about modern physics.