Springville High School has a new kind of team on the field; a particle physics team. Called the 5 Sigma Project, the team was formed to submit an experiment to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland. It is believed to be the first such high school team in Utah.
Last spring, Springville High School sophomore Jonah Allen found out that high school students could submit experiments to CERN for consideration. Before the end of the school year, he began to invite other students from his science classes to participate. Soon he had a team of eight students meeting every Thursday night. They have now been meeting for nine months.
“Our enthusiasm was good, but our skill was low. When it comes to particle physics, events are probabilistic and highly mathematical. You can’t fake it. We needed some serious mentoring,” said Allen.
The team spent months emailing and calling physics departments at Utah universities looking for someone who could help them, but came up empty-handed. Finally, in October, a family friend mentioned to Allen that he knew a physicist at Utah Valley University who might be willing to help. That physicist was Professor Steven Wasserbach.
“When I saw his profile I couldn’t believe it. He has done a lot of work at CERN and published a lot of papers. He was perfect for what we were trying to do. Then I couldn’t believe that he agreed to help us,” said Allen.
CERN started the Beamline for Schools competition in 2014 to celebrate the organization's 60th anniversary. The success of the 2014 competition allowed it to be continued in 2015. The 2016 competition launched on November 17th, 2015 and project submissions are due March 31st, 2016.
Last year, about 100 teams from around the world submitted experiments. Teams who have their experiment selected in June are flown to CERN to see their experiment conducted at the world’s leading facility for particle physics research in September.