At the end of last term, Physics students from EF Academy Oxford visited the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. We first attended a lecture on how a particle accelerator works and what it is used for. We were introduced to different kinds of accelerators (circular accelerators, linear accelerators), where they are, why they are at their current positions, and how to build them. After that, there was another lecture introducing the fundamentals of particle physics. Researchers talked briefly about Quantum Field Theory (the standard model) and how it can describe the world very well, and the also explained some problems in this theory that are yet to be solved. Higgs boson was also mentioned at this point. (Basically, the standard model particles acquire their mass by interacting with the Higgs field, which is filled with Higgs boson.)
In our visit, we went on a tour to ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, which produces beams of neutrons and muons that allow scientists to study materials at the atomic level. We visited the labs and saw an experiment that was being prepared. One part I remember vividly was seeing liquid nitrogen, which is widely used for cooling in experiments.
In the next lecture, we were introduced to a collider. A collider is an accelerator in which two beams of particles are accelerated to very high speed and made to collide. By doing so, scientists can learn more about elementary particles from the collision. One example is the discovery of Higgs boson. This was first observed on 4 July 2012 at Large Hardon Collider. Researchers there found evidence of a particle that fitted the theoretical expectation of Higgs boson. And that was what we tried to do at the following workshop – to identify different elementary particles in collisions and to find the trace of Higgs boson in a simulation.
Finally, we attended a lecture on the application of an accelerator. The accelerator has helped with the study of the structure and composition of materials (using ion beam), and with cancer treatment.
The other big event entered was the British Physics Olympiad (BPO) Challenge. The competition is run by the University of Oxford, and is an opportunity for the best physics students in the UK to stretch their lateral thinking skills and apply fundamental physical principles to novel situations. It is designed to test understanding and problem-solving skills.
In the challenge, I encountered some open-ended questions that are very interesting, and they really tested my knowledge, problem-solving skills and understanding. At first, I just wanted to challenge myself and meanwhile have fun with the problem solving, but it turned out that I won a Silver award, which will help with my university application!
Written by: Yuyuan Huang, A-level Year 1 student
[Head’s note: only 100 Silvers are awarded each year, and over 1,600 top young physics students in the UK enter the competition – so Yuyuan’s achievement is very special: congratulations!]