Swiss high school students experiment at CERN

Getting close and personal with particle physics

A premier at the European Research Center for Particle Physics (CERN) in Geneva-Meyrin: 24 teenagers and young adults from all over Switzerland spent over two weeks in October at CERN to learn and conduct experiments on site. The “Swiss High-School Students Internship Program 2021” (HSSIP) promotes the next generation of researchers in particle physics.

Under expert guidance, participants in the HSSIP internship learned about the various experiments at CERN in Geneva-Meyrin.
Image: Andrej Maraffio

Several years ago, CERN launched the “High-School Students Internship Program” (HSSIP). Since then, each year five of the 23 CERN member states have sent two dozen young people to Geneva-Meyrin. Here, they gain insight into international particle physics research and can conduct their own experiments on particle physics, guided by CERN researchers. In the fourth round of the HSSIP program, it was Switzerland's turn for the first time: During the last two weeks of October, 24 people aged between the ages of 17 and 21 from German-speaking and French-speaking regions as well as Ticino made their way to CERN.

70 applications

The first Swiss HSSIP program should have taken place a year earlier, in fall of 2020. At the beginning of 2020, 70 young people had already applied with a letter of motivation and a video self-presentation. A jury had selected 24 of them for the program. But then the Corona pandemic threw a wrench into everyone’s plans. The internship had to be postponed, first to spring 2021, then to fall 2021.

Now, in fall 2021, it finally worked out. During the first week of their stay, the 24 participants were able to visit various experiments and exhibitions at CERN. In the second week, they each conducted an experiment in pairs, under the expert guidance of a CERN employee with a connection to Switzerland. The interns were also assisted by four accompanying persons in the extensive research facility on the Swiss-French border.

Highly motivated young people

The HSSIP program is organized by CERN in collaboration with a national team. The Swiss core team consisted of five people; Katharina Müller, responsible for public relations at the Swiss Institute of Particle Physics (CHIPP), the Swiss particle physics umbrella organization; supported by Hans-Peter Beck, President of the Swiss Physical Society; CERN's Jörg Wenninger and Massimiliano Ferro-Luzzi; Andreas Müller from the University of Geneva and who is also the national coordinator of the CERN Teacher Program. “Through the CHIPP network, we contacted high school teachers throughout Switzerland and were able to recruit a highly motivated group of young people for the internship,” reports Hans Peter Beck, himself a CERN researcher and physics lecturer at the Universities of Bern and Fribourg.

The internship gives participants a unique insight into one of the largest research institutions worldwide. However, it also helps the students in their choice of study. “With the HSSIP program, CERN wants to promote the next generation of scientists and bring in multipliers who will promote particle physics in society, but also advocate the importance of basic research as a whole,” says Katharina Müller, who is also a scientist at the University of Zurich. This effort is also important because today graduates of scientific disciplines receive offers from industry that are often much more attractive than an academic research career in terms of salary and working hours.

Female applicants stand out

Striking about the Swiss HSSIP program was that female participants were in the majority. “We did not promote women in the selection process; the women simply submitted better applications,” says Katharina Müller. It is not yet clear yet how long the HSSIP program will continue and when Switzerland will have the opportunity to offer students a stay at CERN again.

Author: Benedikt Vogel

Find out about some of the projects the interns in the HSSIP program were involved in and their thoughts about their experience at CERN in the video below:

In groups of two, high school students conducted an experiment directly related to CERN
In groups of two, high school students conducted an experiment directly related to CERNImage: Andrej Maraffio
High School Students (HSSIP) at CERN

Categories

  • Educational science and Pedagogy
  • Particle Physics