In summer this year, high-school physics teacher Paul de Haas from Kandinsky College in Nijmegen in the Netherlands visited CERN as part of the High School Teachers Programme. The visit inspired him to set up a project at his school to teach elementary particle physics to high school students – and to return to CERN three months later with nine senior high-school students.
Christine Kourkoumelis and George Vasileiadis, both of the University of Athens, showed the students how to use the HYPATIA (Hybrid Pupil's Analysis Tool for Interactions in ATLAS) application to search for Higgs-like events in real data from the ATLAS experiment.
"At the age of 17, we've actually seen the entire world of research," says Kandinsky College student Willem Breukelaar. "We've learnt how actually science goes."
The students visited many of CERN's experimental facilities, took part in a cloud-chamber workshop, and attended talks and round-table discussions at the SpacePart12 conference. They also evaluated CERN's Microcosm exhibition as part of an inquiry-based research project for their school.
Inge Verheul was struck by the diversity of people at CERN. " I think the most impressive thing was that all of the people here are just people like us," she says. "When I look here at CERN there are a lot of girls. So I think: well, I won't be the only girl."
So has the experience convinced the students to become budding particle physicists? "I'll need to figure that out for myself," says student Koen Ubbens.