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Claremont High School Academy

A sense of wonder and curiosity

Sixth-form students visit CERN in Switzerland to explore the basic building blocks of life 

What is the nature of our universe? What is it made of? 

These are some of the crucial questions that CERN – the European Council for Nuclear Research - have been exploring at their laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland since their foundation in 1954. They use the world’s largest and most complex scientific instruments, such as the Large Hadron Collider, to probe the fundamental structure of particles that make up everything around us. 

From 26th to 28th February 2024, twenty A Level students from Claremont High School, led by Dr Nicolaou and Ms Raghvani from the Physics Department, went on a trip to Switzerland to experience CERN for themselves. In A Level Physics, students learn about exotic quarks, quantum theory, particle physics and magnetic and electric fields – CERN being at the forefront of scientific research in these areas, it’s the ideal place to connect the students’ subject-knowledge with ‘live’ practice. 

‘Going to CERN and seeing it with my own eyes put into perspective the immense amount of scientific research that goes on there,’ says Jonathan Mathew in Year 13. ‘I especially enjoyed the tour of the facility as we were able to get a deeper insight into the kind of experiments that take place at CERN and how it links to our A Level Physics course.’ Jayden D’Souza, also in Year 13, agrees: ‘One of the highlights was, of course, seeing the particle accelerators up close and learning how they work.’ 

Ms Raghvani believes this is the greatest benefit of such a trip: ‘At CERN, students were able to see and hear first-hand what is going on at the cutting-edge of physics. During the guided tour, they witnessed the scale of the engineering and technology that CERN use at their facilities to help answer the questions, “What are the basic building blocks of matter? How did the universe begin?” Students also discovered the history of the laboratory, where the birth of the World Wide Web in 1989 and discoveries such as the Higgs Boson particle in 2012 have shaped our understanding of the world.’ 

The experience made a real impact on Year 13 student Polina Uzhakova: ‘What struck me most was the palpable passion for science among the people working at CERN. It was inspiring to see individuals who genuinely love their work and are dedicated to advancing human knowledge. The atmosphere of innovation and discovery there was truly encouraging, leaving a lasting impression on me. Overall, my visit provided me with valuable insights into the world of science and technology. It sparked a sense of wonder and curiosity within me, motivating me to explore new opportunities and pursue my interests further.’ 

‘The trip was amazing for all of us,’ says Dhruv Patel in Year 13. ‘It provided us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - being able to learn more about the groundbreaking research that is taking place at CERN and seeing first-hand the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. It allowed me to connect the theory I’ve been learning with real-life practice, something which isn’t easily done for A levels, especially for such a complex subject as particle physics.’ 

But it wasn’t all work… The group also found time to visit Geneva’s Old Quarter and the waterfront, to dine together, go bowling and play laser-tag. 

‘It was a great opportunity to be able to mix with the Year 13s,’ says Dhruv’s namesake, Dhruv Patel in Year 12. ‘All the groupwork and socialising improves your confidence, which I find is really important. It gave us a chance to not only have a team-building experience among our peers, but also to make new friends within the sixth-form cohort, and even get to know our teachers better.’ Jayden agrees that the social side of the trip was an important aspect: ‘Playing laser-tag and bowling, as well as trying traditional Swiss foods, added a fun and memorable dimension to the experience. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to have been part of it. I will remember it for years to come!’