High School Teachers





High School Teachers 1998.

participants activities

The 1998 Summer School for High School Teachers.

We were a group of nine physics-teachers from seven different countries who took part in a pilot-project at CERN for three weeks in the summer of 1998. This is our account of what we experienced and some advice to those who have the luck to take part in such a project in the future. The pilot-project will certainly differ from future projects, but hopefully our account can give a flavour of what to expect.


At CERN we were taken on an intellectual roller-coaster trip to learn a little about some of the extremely diverse areas of physics and engineering taken place here. Sometimes we felt that the flow of information was overwhelming, but in the end it was mostly stimulating. At the time we arrived there had been recent news from the KAMIOKANDE-neutrino detector where they had found possible evidence for a neutrino-mass. Many of the people around the place were thinking about the implications for the Standard Model and cosmology Ō physics in the making!


For many years, CERN has organized summer schools for students of various types, ranging from theoretical physics to engineering. We wondered a bit about why CERN would want to invite teachers as well. As far as we gathered it was two-fold. First of all CERN tries to answer the BIG questions about nature. This can seem a little bit futile if the curiosity that raises the questions is not shared by a larger part of the public and if the answers that are found stay with a few select experts. As physics-teachers we are supposed to be experts in transferring the kind of knowledge produced at CERN. As enthusiastic physics-teachers we can also spread the curiosity.

Secondly, physicists all over Europe are increasingly worrying about the declining numbers of physics students, and more in general about the declining interest for physics. Therefore, they are looking for ways in which CERN could help to reverse this trend, and teachers occupy an important position in this respect. Summer schools provide a way to get in touch with teachers, but other initiatives may also receive warm support.


No extensive preparation is expected or needed for this summer school. Actually, in this pilot group, most of us heard about this opportunity only briefly before the event, and little time was left for preparing at all. However, given more time, if one wants to make the most of the experience, it could worthwhile for instance to:

•Surf around a little bit on CERNS WEB-page. Get acquainted with the location and the general nature of the work that goes on here. 
•Read some popular books about modern physics, such as Egil Lillestols eminent book: In search of infinity, or such as The New Physics , edited by P. Davies, in particular the chapters 14-17. 

Of course there are a lot of more specialised texts covering different parts of the spectrum of activities at CERN. A look at the lectures we received will give you some clues.
Contents of the pilot-project.

The lectures.

The idea was that lectures could be followed for as long as the level and the nature of the subjects made it interesting to do so. In practice, most of us followed a large part of the programme. The eminent lecturing capabilities of most of the appointed lecturers made it interesting to stay, even when the level was too high to lead to real comprehension.

•Introduction to CERN & Particle Physics by C.H. Llewellyn-Smith. A whistlestop tour of CERN its organisation and its research. This is an elementary introduction. 
•Fundamental Concepts by R. Kleiss. This series of lectures has a very steep gradient. In 6 lectures we are brought from an introduction for the non-specialist into field-theoretical concepts. Everyone should follow as long as they can understand at least 20% of the contentŌ and include the last lecture. We all drowned inspired (at different times depending on background in Quantum mechanics and Quantum Field theory). 
•Introduction for Non-Physicists by Egil Lillestol. For a physics-teacher this was a highly comprehensible series of lectures and also a goldmine containing lots of simplifying analogies and illustrative examples that we can bring with us to our classrooms. After lectures like these you realise what can be done of particle physics inside curricula. 
•Big Experiments by P. Jenni. As physicists most of us are not all that interested in the economics and the politics inside CERN or between CERN and its environment. But without it there would be no LEP or LHC. Interesting or not Ō we ought to be pleased to learn something about the boundary-conditions that makes a place like this possible. •Detectors by J. Virdee. This is the detective-story about what seeing means in the context of particle physics. Includes a wealth of exciting physics. This is a field where the requirements of physics have been pushing the limits of what is technologically feasible. Possibly the rate of information at the lectures made most of our cerebral data acquisition units overflow. Had one got the lecture-notes a month in advance it could have been easier to keep awake. A series of lectures that are somewhat accessible for anyone. 
•Trigger and DAS by P. Mato. In the detectors there is an enormous data production. In LHC there will be a beam-crossing every 25 ns. This is the time it will take a signal to travel 5 m in a cable. It is clearly necessary to filter out uninteresting data as soon as possible, and to process the events in a super-efficient way. The first lectures are on an elementary level that should be accessible to all. 
•Computing by Tony Cass. The amount of interconnected computing power makes one wonder when it all will start living. This is the heart of CERN-technology. Very understandable and interesting lectures. 
•The Standard Model by C. Quigg. This series of lectures starts from the Maxwell gauge in a quantum mechanical context and the Aharanov-Bohm effect. Very steep gradient indeed. Our half-life at these lectures were 45 minutes. 
•Discussion sessions at the Friday afternoons. Here is where we could have asked questions about lectures given the last week. This is where the brightest students (inadvertently?) intimidated the slightly outdated physics-teachers, their fellow students or anyone who have not recently taken a course in Quantum field theory. Sociologically interesting. Remember that you also have areas of expertise. 

Apart from the regular summer-student-lectures we where treated to a wealth of lectures and guided tours for physics-teachers only.

Lectures and guided tours for physics-teachers only.

This is probably the part of the pilot-project that differs most from future projects. Our experience might give a flavour of what to expect. One thing Ō they gave us some of their best experts as lecturers.

•What CERN means for contractors and technology-transfer. 
•Particle-physics and medicine. (For the survival of your loved ones it is certainly much more important to have a first-class cancer-hospital available than not having powerlines over your home!) 
•CERN and the WWW. The World Wide Web was born here at CERN. We had a lecture by R. Caillou who is one of its inventors. We also learned how to create our own web-page with hyperlinks and pictures. 
•Visit at the LHC-workshops. Truly fascinating. Here is where technology-pushing takes place. Sweet technological problems and their solutions. 
•Visit at the vacuum-laboratory. At the time of visit this laboratory and its staff (mean-age 28 years) had the world-record in vacuum at room-temperature: 10 -14 torr (what is the mean-distance between molecules at that pressure?). How do you create and uphold vacuums like those necessary at the LHC? Again very sweet technological problems and if the enthusiasm of our guide P. Chiggiato means anything, they will be solved. 
•Accelerators Ō principles and uses. The finer points of relativistic electrodynamics lectured at relativistic speed was a tiny bit heavy for some of us. The staggering amount of accelerators in use around the world for industrial purposes (not only research but also production) was a surprise to many of us. A growing amount of accelerators are also used in hospitals both as a diagnostic tool and for radiation-therapy. 
•Some particle-physics by way of analogy by F. Close. Frank Close showed us what can be possible in education by using well known examples as analogies to similar phenomena or ways of "seeing" in particle-physics. 
•Beyond the standard-model by John Ellis covered the same territory as a few of the summer-lectures, but here we could ask questions on the way. 
•Particle physics and cosmology by Alvaro de Rujula was a brilliantly clear and funny exposition of the history of the universe and its constituents. 
•Visit at one of the LEP-experiments. This was one of the most impressive experiences. Mind-boggling to SEE what a "tiny" part of LEP looks like. Rewarding to have some intellectual luggage in the form of some knowledge of detectors. 
•Microcosm or the place where you must read the book standing up÷ Well, in all fairness Ō this is what itĖs all about for us÷ how do we tell the other part of the world about it? Lots of shiny equipment such as detector-parts ÷ but really, how many bits of information can you digest during one visit? ItĖs like running through the Louvre ÷ little in the way of activities (but some very good exhibits). Here we should try to help! After all it is an important part of their interface with the world. 
•The sociocosm of CERN by Martina Mertz, one of the few sociologists with a degree in physics. She has been studying the physicists and their culture. This is where you start wondering "- but are they happy?" (IsnĖt that question directed at ourselves quite important for each one of us and should be to our pupils?) If you ask the physicists they all say they are happy÷ dealing with important questions ÷ interesting people ÷ But those answers are predictable. They are part of the research-culture, but of course they can be true anyway. 

When we were not working.

We spent a great deal of time at the CERN-canteen which serves all the fuels needed. At the temperatures we had (30+), we sat in the shadow of trees outdoors. At tables around us we heard a lot of different languages: bzz bzz quark bzz bzz gluon÷ With some luck you could see several (we saw 5) nobel-prize winners at the same time ( and surely a few coming winners as well)! A slightly less elevated Mont Blanc massif was glittering in the distance.
We lived in St Genis at the foot of the Jura-mountains. In the afternoons we could take walks in the rural surroundings, e.g. there is a nice tractor-path between Serget and St Crozet. There is also a golf-course and a jogging (++) path just outside St Genis.
If you want to get up into the Juras you can take the direct (all paths dies on you) route - or easier to St Crozet from which you have a cabin-lift (in activity every day).
Geneva is 25 min with bus from CERN, there you can go sight-seeing or irradiate yourself at one of the bathing-piers that is within 10 min walk from the center of Geneva.
It is also worth noting that Chamonix with the Mont Blanc massif is close enough for a daytrip.
A couple of us had or got their families here. Since the visit involves a good deal of scheduled activity the families had to take care of themselves during week-days.


I guess we will all look back at the visit to CERN as a highpoint in several different ways. We got to visit the front and hear the multilingual buzz from a cerebral war against some of the BIG questions of nature. Nowhere else in the world can 6000 cooks make such a delicate soup, dependent on a million well-balanced ingredients. How that is possible ought to be studied in it self (perhaps there is a lesson hidden here for the rest of the world?).

We also got to meet each other. We saw how similar our situation is in many ways and how the similarities indicate a common ground for cooperation. The similarities are not only in the things we teach and how we do it, but also in our working-conditions and how these seem to be changing. Perhaps it is time to start an association of physics-teachers in Europe (as there is one in some of our countries (Denmark, Norway, Greece)?

We learned a lot! I wouldnĖt have wanted to do anything else during this part of my vacation!


Š CERN and High School Teachers Programme at CERN

Last modified: 28 June 2002