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HiSPARC - Doing Real Particle Physics Research in Schools

Lead Institution: University of Bristol

Project Summary

HiSPARC: doing real particle physics research in schools

HiSPARC is an ambitious physics engagement project that gets key stage 3 and key stage 4 pupils doing real research on the high-energy particles - cosmic rays - that bombard the earth from outer space. It builds on a similar very successful 10 year-old programme in the Netherlands, where more than 100 schools have simple-to-operate cosmic ray detectors installed on their roofs for generating and sharing data within a network managed by universities.

HiSPARC offers a model for enhancing STEM teaching and learning, both at secondary school and at university level. By installing cosmic ray detectors on their roofs and linking together in networks, schools invest themselves in a project that generates real data for use in lessons and for extracurricular activities. Teachers make productive links with their local university, enhancing their professional development.

Aims & Objectives

The overall aim of the project was to:

Translate the Netherlands HiSPARC model to Bristol, recruiting a number of schools to install cosmic ray detectors, both taking ownership of their local data set and using data from the entire grid of detectors to do real research into very high energetic cosmic rays. Such research will enable pupils to learn about:

  • Quantum mechanics
  • Relativity
  • Astrophysics
  • Elementary particles

The translation of the HiSPARC model necessitated working in partnership with a whole range of STEM-related individuals and organisations, as below:

  1. Physics and science teachers in local schools
  2. STEMNET and Science Learning Centre (Bristol) to forge new relationships with schools
  3. The Institute of Physics, to promote and disseminate project findings and to provide a source of funding for schools to engage in the project
  4. The University of Bristol's Centre for Public Engagement to promote and celebrate the success of the project

The University of Bristol's Particle Physics group provided ongoing technical support, including advice to teachers and pupils for building the cosmic ray detectors.

Staff involved

Dr Jaap Velthuis
Project lead, University of Bristol

Dr Helen Heath
University of Bristol