The European Particle Physics Outreach Group [EPPOG] was established 15 years ago, under the joint auspices of the European Committee for Future Accelerators and the European Physical Society’s High Energy Particle Physics Board. In 2011 it evolved into the International Particle Physics Outreach Group [IPPOG], reflecting the international nature of the group. IPPOG’s principle aim is to maximise the impact of education and outreach efforts relating to particle physics, through information exchange and the sharing of expertise.
The group, which is composed of particle physics communication and education experts from CERN, its member states and the LHC experiments; DESY; and the USA, meets twice each year: once at CERN and once elsewhere. This year’s off-CERN meeting was held on 20-21 April in the beautiful Austrian city of Innsbruck, where Victor Hess set up a cosmic ray observation station after making his ground-breaking discovery of such phenomena 100 years ago.
Until a couple of years ago, IPPOG meetings were almost exclusively used for exchanging education and outreach ideas and resources, where each country or experiment presented their core activities and gained some insight into outreach efforts elsewhere. The meetings now feature focussed working groups, drawing from the collective experiences of members to tackle specific needs of the community.
A pre-meeting session was held on 19 April to provide feedback on the 2012 International Particle Physics masterclass activities. 143 masterclasses were conducted in 2012, bringing real LHC data from ALICE, ATLAS and CMS to nearly 10,000 high-school students around the world. The main purpose of these masterclasses is to expose students to the scientific process and excite them about physics.
The students spent a day at a local institute or laboratory to learn about particle physics and perform measurements on real data. For example, some students identified leptons from W+/W– decays in CMS and ATLAS, subsequently calculating the W+/W– production ratio, leading to an understanding of the inner structure of the proton. Others looked for “strange” particles in ALICE events, leading to an understanding of the conditions of the early Universe.
This year’s events were well received around the world, with more countries – Australia, China, India and others – expressing interest in participating next year. During the main session of the IPPOG meeting, one of the working groups sought to address such growing interest in the masterclasses by considering local, less time-consuming alternatives, dubbed mini-masterclasses. It is hoped that these will begin this summer.
A second group was tasked with producing a storyboard for a simple animated explanation of the Higgs mechanism, aimed at the general public. The task was more challenging than anticipated, with keen discussions ensuing. An important conclusion drawn was that there is a major error in many popular texts and videos: that “the Higgs boson is responsible for the masses of particles”. The Higgs boson doesn’t, in fact, give mass to any particle – it is the “Higgs field” that performs this role; the boson is simply a physical manifestation of this field. The working group will work closely with a CERN-based team to animate the explanation when it is ready.
A major goal of IPPOG is to promote the necessity to communicate high-energy physics amongst its peers, and to provide tools and ideas for physicists to undertake their own activities. During the summer of 2012, IPPOG will have a presence at many key international conferences, including the first World Conference on Physics Education in Istanbul, Turkey and the Euroscience Open Forum in Dublin, Ireland. IPPOG is also organising an “Education and Outreach” parallel session at the International Conference on High Energy Physics in Melbourne, Australia.
One of the tools that IPPOG will demonstrate at this event is a new database of education and outreach resources, which has been compiled over the past couple of years. For more information on th database, please see our article “Particle physics outreach database launched by IPPOG“.
At the end of the Innsbruck meeting, the delegates visited Hess’s historic laboratory on Mount Hafelekar. Located at an altitude of 2265 m, the laboratory was set up by Hess to study cosmic rays. The visit was an enlightening reminder of the progress that has been made over the last 100 years in understanding the fundamental particles and forces that form our Universe.
A hundred years ago, few people knew of Hess’s work and the implications of cosmic rays. With the LHC on the brink of major discoveries, IPPOG is helping to ensure that as many people as possible understand, and support, both the field of particle physics and the need for fundamental research, even in the tough economic climate of the early 21st century.
For more information, please visit the IPPOG website.