CERN Accelerating science

Joining efforts to reach out with particle physics

After the Higgs, how to best communicate LHC as a discovery machine? How to bring the masterclasses to new countries, age groups and settings? What makes a good educational game? How to join efforts in the existing national cosmic ray detector programs in order to take them further? These were some of the questions addressed at the 9th IPPOG meeting, held in Paris from the 16th to the 18th April 2015.

The International Particle Physics Outreach Group, IPPOG, is a network of scientists, science educators and communication specialists working across the globe in informal science education and outreach for particle physics. IPPOG’s purpose is to raise standards of public outreach and science education efforts. IPPOG brings new discoveries in this exciting field to young people and conveys to the public that the beauty of nature is indeed becoming understandable from the interactions of its most fundamental parts - the elementary particles.

IPPOG meetings are intense days. There are panel discussions, working groups, and all must lead to wrap ups that enlarge the discussion to the whole of IPPOG. Brainstorming is the name of the game, and ideas are shared in the same way no matter if they are for a common project or for an activity going on in one of the countries. In between meetings, homework is carried on by the working groups and ideas are tested: does it work with real students and teachers?

Other topics in the agenda included discussions on how to boost the educational use of the CERN open access data, how to bring science education and outreach to particle physics conferences in a more effective way, as well as news on web resources, exhibits or programs for teacher and students existing in the different countries.Looking around, one can see the will to communicate science can take off rather early in the career. And the young people in IPPOG are special in their creativity and strong awareness of the social role of science. 

The International Masterclasses (IMC) on Particle Physics, IPPOG's flagship initiative, are now hold in 42 countries. Data from ALICE, ATLAS, CMS and LHCB is used. Improvements, new measurements and new data are always being added. TOTEM is joining in, and there are plans for astroparticle physics experiments such as the Fermi satellite, IceCube or the Pierre Auger Observatory. The new challenges are many and varied. The province of South New Wales, in Australia, wishes to have particle physics masterclasses in all high schools. The so called virtual masterclasses, based on virtual training tools and in which the communication between researchers, teachers and participants goes on for a longer time scale, may became particularly important. On the other end of the spectrum are the “masterclasses in a box”, based on printed imagers and foreseen for settings with no computers available.

Also presented at the meeting were activities such as the most recent edition of the international cosmic day or the international muon week. These, as the schools for teachers held at CERN in native languages, are crucial when the goal is to have more modern and experimental physics in high schools, and there is a lot to learn from sharing ideas and experiences.

Described by the participants as very rewarding, the meeting included inspiring visits to the LAL accelerator complex, classified as EPS historical site, and to the Collider exhibition now at the science museum Palais de la Découverte. The final session was closed with an applause to Kate Shaw, ATLAS representative in IPPOG and recently awarded the 2015 EPS Outreach Prize, for “her contributions to the International Masterclasses and for her pioneering role in bringing them to countries with no strong tradition in particle physics“, as Palestine and Nepal. Congratulations to Kate, to the International Masterclasses team, and to IPPOG!

IPPOG's membership includes a rare mix of scientists and researchers, science educators and explainers from prominent laboratories and institutions engaged in particle physics. Current member come from the 21 member states of CERN, Ireland, Romania, South Africa, the USA, and from DESY, CERN and five of the major experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Marge Bardeen (FNAL) and Hans Peter Beck (University of Bern) are presently the co-chairs of IPPOG.