CERN’s Beamline for Schools competition started in 2014, and has inspired more than 14 000 students from across the globe to experience particle physics research first-hand.
The competition was set up by CERN with the aim of attracting young people to science and setting them on the path to become tomorrow’s science and engineering graduates. By leveraging the strength of the CERN brand and the excitement it elicits, the competition provides an excellent opportunity for students to experience real science.
For the last eight years, Beamline for Schools has given students the chance to engage with fundamental research and demonstrate hands-on science education to the public and to policy-makers. With a target audience of high-school students above 16 years of age, the competition is intended to give young people the impetus to pursue a career in science.
All the big discoveries in science began with curious minds asking simple questions triggered by the observation of natural phenomena. The Beamline for Schools competition encourages the students to channel this curiosity into learning.
The competition is open to teams of high-school students from all around the world. Teams must have five students with at least one adult team coach, and may be composed of students from either a single school or a number of schools working together.
In this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the teams of students are free to propose any experiment that involves the use of the particle beam that is made available for the competition. The winning teams are then invited to a particle physics accelerator to run their experiment. The competition is open to all students irrespective of their prior knowledge of particle physics, particle accelerators or detectors, and relies on them finding an idea that stimulates wonder and interest.
Over the years, the Beamline for Schools competition has steadily evolved, creating a wider impact and attracting an increasing number of applicants each year. In 2019, CERN partnered with DESY, the German national laboratory for particle physics, accelerators and photon science, to continue the competition during the second long shutdown of CERN’s accelerator complex. For three editions, the winning teams were invited to DESY to carry out their experiments with the support of a team of scientists from both laboratories. The fruitful collaboration with the German laboratory continued after the end of the long shutdown, and in 2022 three teams were selected to make their experiments a reality – two working at CERN and one at DESY.
In addition, more than 2000 students attended a series of specialised online workshops and training sessions, such as “The James Webb Space Telescope: a new exploration of the cosmos”, where the students were exposed to advanced concepts and ideas explained by experts.
The 2022 competition also introduced a new series of special prizes for the participating and winning teams. For the shortlisted teams, special prizes included a portable particle detector for their school and a BL4S (Beamline for Schools) T-shirt and USB flash drive for each team member.
In a first, with the support of the Belgian project “Stars Shine for Everyone” (SSVI), the teams were also offered the chance to win an SSVI optical telescope. To lay their hands on the telescope, the teams had to propose a science education or outreach activity that the members of the team could organise in their community. In an effort to encourage inclusivity and raise awareness, the teams were asked to propose ways to share their passion for physics with people who are less exposed to science.
In addition, all the participants received a digital certificate of participation.
Set to celebrate its tenth edition in 2023, the Beamline for Schools competition is a remarkable opportunity for high-school students to discover their talents, make new discoveries and apply their knowledge to new settings. As students step into the shoes of innovators, problem-solvers and collaborators, they have the opportunity to live and foster their passion for physics at a young age.
With students participating from all over North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and more, the Beamline for Schools is not only an international physics competition but also a thrilling introduction to the confluence of science and diversity.
The CERN & Society Foundation, which is supported by individual donors, foundations and companies, funds the Beamline for Schools Competition, which has helped create a monumental impact on such projects.
With the goal of encouraging and supporting young people’s interest in the subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the Beamline for Schools competition is a landmark project that embodies the mission of the CERN & Society Foundation.