Physics students work to improve our knowledge of the universe - CCCG
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Physics students work to improve our knowledge of the universe

On Monday 10 December, 10 A Level students from City & Islington’s Sixth Form College in Islington built a cosmic ray detector at the Institute of Physics (IOP), near King’s Cross.

Physics students work to improve our knowledge of the universe

The detector, the first of its kind in London, will help the students, and scientists around the world, understand more about cosmic rays.

Cosmic rays come from sources all across the universe – some from our sun, others from supernovae (exploding stars) and other sources outside our galaxy that have a million times more energy than the collisions produced in the Large Hadron Collider. Scientists want to learn more about these strange particles and cosmic ray detectors (which detect a specific type of particle called cosmic ray muons) are an excellent way to do this.

The IOP guided the students through the building process and have connected the detector to HiSPARC; a network of similar detectors installed in schools and universities in the UK, Denmark and the Netherlands.  This is the first detector in London to be linked to the HiSPARC network.

As well as building the detector, over the course of their studies, the students will analyse the streams of data that it collects and will conduct their own research using the results.

Sajib Al Rashid, A Level Physics teacher at City & Islington College said: “As a result of cosmic rays, billions of particles pass through each and every one of us every day, but to detect them you need specialist and sophisticated equipment. We are delighted to have partnered with the IOP on this project. Our students have been energised by the experience and the chance to do genuine cosmological research.”

Sally Colston, A Level Physics teacher added: “This is an amazing opportunity for the students to build apparatus that is contributing to our knowledge of the universe. They will be part of the network of students all working to analyse the data from many detectors. We expect that they will be publishing their original research within a year.”

An A Level in Physics is the gateway to studying the subject at university and can lead to a PhD or on to a well-paid job as a physicist, technician, coder or engineer. Physics graduates can work in health or research institutes, defence, robotics, aerospace, computing, electronics, power generation or gas and oil exploration, or government departments, like the Met Office.

IOP Public Programmes Manager, Toby Shannon said: “We are excited to be installing this brand new piece of physics equipment in the heart of Islington, on the roof of our building. We hope that the students get an insight into what goes into the design and construction of physics experiments that allow us to answer some of the biggest questions about our world. 

“Data from the detector that these young people are building will be available online for anyone to access and download to use for research or teaching; this data not only connects Islington with our European counterparts, but with the wider universe as we detect signals from particles that originated beyond our galaxy!”


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