ATLAS inspires the future generation of particle physicists

March 2023

RAL & The University of Oxford particle physicists show passionate sixth formers the ropes at a recent master class.


Particle physicists set out to inspire the next generation to continue the quest to answer some of science’s biggest questions and continue to revolutionise the way we understand the Universe at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL).


Students from five UK schools travelled to the national scientific research laboratory, operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, to meet the scientists and learn more about the subject in a masterclass as part of their recent research project Big Data: ATLAS.


RAL and the University of Oxford Department of Physics , who developed Big Data: ATLAS with IRIS, organised the event to encourage young people to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects by shedding light on the wider study of particle physics.


Students being taken on a tour of the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source


At the event, we spoke with Eimear Conroy, a PHD student in particle physics at the University of Oxford who is supporting sixth-form students on the Big Data: ATLAS project. Discussing the students she’s been working with, Eimear told us:


They’ve exceeded my expectations every time. I’ve been consistently impressed with the ability of the students to do this kind of work. And it’s massively impressive how they’re able to go from not having encountered any of this before, to being able to do coding projects that are very akin to what I do in my everyday work as a particle physics researcher.”

It’s an obvious statement that among the school pupils of today are the scientific leaders of the future. Their ideas and experiments will change our understanding of the universe in ways that today we can’t even imagine.

Professor Alan Barr Professor of Particle Physics, University of Oxford

The 25 sixth formers were invited to take part due to their interest in the subject. Each student participates in Big Data: ATLAS, a research project analysing data from the ATLAS detector. The detector is used by physicists to observe the results of proton-proton collisions in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.


As part of their day, the student researchers received a lesson in coding from RAL and the University of Oxford University particle physicists, as well as a lecture on The Standard Model of matter, careers talks and a tour of the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source and the Scientific Computing Department.

Students being shown a model of the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source

Toby, a sixth-form student from Forge Valley School in Sheffield told us that taking part in the event and speaking with physicists in person has been helpful in understanding the physics behind the project.


“It’s been really useful, much more useful, than I could have imagined it would be. They’ve really helped me to improve all the physics-y side of things. I’m feeling a lot more confident.”


We also asked Toby about why he thinks doing real research whilst in school is important.


“I think doing the research in schools helps to inspire us because it feels hands on. And it’s actual work that actual people actual scientists do. So it feels much better than just learning something from a whiteboard.”

See what the teachers & students had to say about the event

Professor Alan Barr, Professor of Particle Physics at the University of Oxford, who took part in the event, said: “It’s an obvious statement that among the school pupils of today are the scientific leaders of the future. Their ideas and experiments will change our understanding of the universe in ways that today we can’t even imagine.”


Participating schools included: Dartford Grammar in Kent, Forge Valley School in Sheffield, Highgate Hill Sixth Form in London, Lampton School  in London and The Tiffin Girls’ School in Kingston.


Due to the cost of the trip, one school in Northern Ireland couldn’t attend the event. Professor Barr, who grew up in County Londonderry, arranged for the masterclass to come to them.


He met sixth-form students at Limavady Grammar School, where his mother formerly taught, to show them coding methods used by particle physicists and to enlighten them about the Standard Model of matter. You can find out more about his trip below.


Empower your students with the skills to explore their own questions in particle physics.


Read more


Leading particle physicist returns home to meet with aspiring young scientists.


Read more