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Education, education, education

Education is a recurring theme of our 60th anniversary year, says CERN Director-General Rolf Heuer


Education is a recurring theme of our 60th anniversary year, as I was reminded last week when we had a visit from the winners of the Spanish schools competition launched with the Prince of Asturias Award prize money (see here).

Young people are always remarkable in their curiosity and inventiveness, and this was very clear in all the submissions for the competition. I was most impressed with the six winners, but have to give a special mention to the youngest, Sofía Isabella Villamizar Villegas, who at just seven years of age made a lovely video explaining the Higgs mechanism by analogy to moving a balloon with and without static charge through a field of suspended strips of paper. It was not only charming, but also very effective as analogies go.

The Spanish visit came in the middle of judging to find a winner of the Beamline for Schools competition, which closed at the end of March having received almost 300 proposals for experiments from schools all over the world. These vary from fundamental physics, with students wanting to study the weak interaction, to radiation hardness for space applications, and include a wide range of medically oriented proposals as well. From what I have seen, the quality is high: I do not envy the judges who have to choose a winner from a very strong selection.

Completing the range of new educational initiatives to be launched this year is S’cool lab, a new lab designed for school students and teachers visiting CERN that’s being installed in the Microcosm building to add a new dimension to high school visits to CERN. At the S’cool lab, students can use facilities that are not commonly available in schools, and will be able to repeat fundamental experiments in modern physics such as electron diffraction and the Rutherford experiment. They'll be able to study the properties of electrons and photons, explore superconductivity, trap particles and learn about particle detection techniques. S’cool lab will open to its first young experimenters in July 2014.

S’cool is perhaps a good place to draw this message to a close, because it is a fact that basic science is now perceived as relevant, exciting and cool, and that’s something we need to build on. All our futures depend on science, and if we want to ensure a bright future for young Sofía Isabella and her generation, scientific education is the key.