On May 3rd CERN hosted the TEDx@CERN event. TED is a nonprofit organisation devoted to the concept of 'Ideas Worth Spreading'. The TEDx@CERN event included a number of speakers covering a wide range of topics from cosmology (by Nobel Prize-winner, George Smoot) to the Higgs Boson to DNA research. Among the speakers was Dr. Becky Parker MBE, Head of Physics at the Simon Langton Grammar School and winner of the first Royal Astronomical Society Patrick Moore Medal (http://www.ras.org.uk/news-and-press/219-news-2012/2059-dr-becky-parker-...) for her outstanding work teaching astronomy. Becky's talk was entitled 'You're Never Too Young To Be a Research Scientist.'
In her talk Becky described how the CERN@school project (which provides Timepix devices for use in high schools) is helping to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. The Timepix chip, when combined with semiconductor sensors, provides images of ionising radiation. The chip comprises an array of 256 x 256 pixels on a pitch of 55um. If the frame time is adjusted such that individual clusters in an image are well separated, it is possible to measure how much charge is deposited in each pixel by a given particle. Looking at the shape of the clusters one can distinguish heavy charged particles (thick tracks) from light charged particles (thin tracks), photons (typically one or 2 pixel clusters), alphas (blobs) and beta particles (worm like tracks). Students can actually Œsee¹ the individual particles. One such device, which is detecting background radiation, is on permanent display in the entrance of building 14.
Becky and her students have been in contact with the ESE-based Medipix team for the last seven years. She brings one or two large groups of students every year to visit the team. Following a general introduction, students are split into smaller groups and each group is shown the various stages in the chip development process, from analog and digital chip design to characterisation and measurement. This gives the students the opportunity to talk directly to the young engineers and physicists working on the project. It was following one of these visits that her students came up with the idea of LUCID detector (Langton Ultimate Cosmic ray Intensity Detector). The detector uses a cubic arrangement of 5 Timepix devices for cosmic ray detection on a satellite. The data is then beamed back to earth for analysis by students participating in the programme. The construction of the detector was funded by a UK science prize and the satellite will be launched later in the year.
The Langton Grammar School provides about 1% of the national cohort of physics undergraduates in the UK.