Wednesday, 19 February 2014

KS3 Access Day at Rutherford Appleton Laboratories

by Jeremy Thomas

A group of 9 Year 8 pupils were very lucky, recently, to gain access to the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories(RAL), near Didcot in Oxfordshire. RAL hosts some of the UK’s major scientific facilities including the Central Laser Facility; ISIS, a pulsed neutron and muon source; RAL Space, STFC's Space Science and Technology Department and the Diamond Light Source Ltd – the UK national synchrotron radiation facility. The pupils were all selected as keen members of PGS lunchtime Science Clubs, or through recommendation by their science teachers. During the visit they toured some of the facilities, such as the ISIS beam source laboratory, where negative hydrogen is manufactured using dangerous ingredients, such as caesium, and huge voltages of 90 000 V. Some of the pupils bravely stood on the high voltage testing platform, fortunately switched off at the time!


In the ISIS accelerator lab, Dr.Chris Frost, lead scientist on the Chipir instrument, was particularly impressed by the enthusiasm and knowledge of the PGS pupils. He explained the purpose of his own project, which is to study the impact of solar flares on microchips in mobile phones and other communication technology. The pupils were also subjected to some shocking treatment with a Van der Graaf generator and an infra red camera which could see through plastic bin bags, revealing the person inside! 


The pupils also took part in a challenge to build a balloon powered go-kart and listened to an inspiring talk about Particle Physics and why human beings are so fascinated by pure knowledge that we build huge, international experiments such as those at CERN in Switzerland. All the pupils enjoyed the visit and some might even be thinking about a career in a field where you can still get new things named after you, like the Higgs Boson!

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