CERN Accelerating science

Tactile Collider

Tactile Collider is currently touring the UK, bringing the science of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and Higgs boson to visually impaired (VI) school children. Created by scientists from the Cockcroft Institute (Daresbury, UK), the event features a life size tactile particle accelerator model, immersive audio environments and 3D printed particle models, all with the aim of making exciting science accessible to this underrepresented audience.

From particles that are one hundred billion times smaller than a human hair’s width to galaxies consisting of hundreds of billions of stars, physicists are used to understanding things that are beyond the limits of human senses. Carefully designed experiments, such as the LHC, produce masses of data about the unseen that we can turn into information about our universe. This new information fuels a next generation of experiments, taking our understanding deeper and further. At each stage we update the illustrations and texts that make scientific discoveries at smallest and largest scales accessible to the human mind.

If you have a visual impairment, then not being able to see these illustrations is an immense barrier to understanding the science.

In the early days of Tactile Collider, project leaders Dr. Rob Appleby (University of Manchester), Dr. Chris Edmonds (University of Liverpool) and Dr. Marieke Navin (SHIFT digital) visited St Vincent’s School for the blind (Liverpool), where they observed lessons in science labs that had much in common with arts and crafts rooms. Teachers seemed to be engaged in a continuous process of preparing materials that make topics such as the solar system and planetary motion accessible to pupils with a wide spectrum of visual impairments.

Tactile maps, special diagrams with raised features that can be explored by hand, are often used to convey concepts, but these do not simply replace illustrations. Dr. Chris Edmonds said “vision allows us to take in high resolution pictures very quickly. If you can’t see, building up the same information using touch can be time consuming”, for this reason VI people can progress through teaching materials at a slower rate than sighted peers. The Tactile Collider team aimed to create an innovative set of educational resources, linking cutting edge physics research to curriculum and exploring new methods of communicating science with VI audiences.

Dr. Rob Appleby said: “We wanted to ensure we were creating an experience that was right for our audience, and to do that it was really critical for us to talk to our audience.” The team spent time with representatives of the VI community at museums, in schools and at Daresbury laboratory. They met people whose preferred approach would build up a mental picture from tactile maps and models by rapidly scanning their hands over them, those who enjoyed the authenticity of real objects and others who would choose audio over tactile resources. These experiences were used to drive the development process, leading to activities that allow the Tactile Collider audience to explore physics concepts through different mediums.

In January 2018, pupils from Bolton were amongst the first to experience a Tactile Collider event. The 90 minutes begin as pupils are introduced to CASSIE (Conceptual Accelerator Setup Supporting Inclusive Education), a life size model of a particle accelerator. Designed to be light weight and transportable, the steel plated CASSIE is cold and solid to the touch, bringing some of the authenticity of visiting a real particle accelerator.

Surrounding the model accelerator are four activity stations, where students explore particle physics, magnetic fields, particle acceleration and the detection of the Higgs boson. The activities feature 3D printed objects that can be pieced together to build particle accelerator components, tactile maps that guide you through accelerator physics concepts and immersive audio experiences that take you inside the LHC. At the heart of each station is a Cockcroft Institute PhD student, who brings the activities together, informing the pupils about research and helping to develop young people’s attitudes towards science and scientists.


Brightly coloured 3D printed magnet jigsaws provide an engaging way to explore the properties of magnetic fields. Tactile bumps and indentations allow people to identify the North and South poles through touch. (Image credit: Tactile Collider)

The people within the Tactile Collider team have been instrumental to the success of the project, which has recently won two awards at the University of Manchester’s Better World Showcase. Students from the Cockcroft Institute have contributed significant amounts of time to both producing and delivering Tactile Collider. Under the expert guidance of external consultants, including Kirin Saeed (specialist in audio and video description), team members have developed their ability to open communication with audiences who are underrepresented within the physics community. Dr. Marieke Navin said: “The staff and students working with us are the lecturers of tomorrow, by training these scientists we are tackling the problem of underrepresented audiences”.

Tactile Collider will resume its 2018 UK tour with events in Hereford (13th & 14th March), Bradford (19th April), Glasgow (13th June) and Edinburgh (14th June). Teachers visiting these events will also be able to participate in continuing professional development (CPD) sessions, which aim to support teachers in using Tactile Collider resources and to raise awareness of methods of science teaching that are inclusive of VI audiences. Robyn Watson, a teacher with Bolton Visual Impairment Team, contributed to the development of sessions and is coordinating school enrolment to events, she commented “the needs of students with VI are often an afterthought, however a few thoughtful tweaks and alterations can enable a student to get to grips with complex theories. This boosts confidence, aspirations and makes students feel like valued members of a class.

Beyond the class room, Tactile Collider will also be found alongside the Cockcroft Institutes existing public engagement activities at summer festivals, including bluedot (20th – 22nd July 2018).

The Tactile Collider project is funded by STFC.

Header image: School pupils at a Tactile Collider event explore the CASSIE particle accelerator. The steel plated model is designed to inspire curiosity. (Image credit: Tactile Collider)

Romain Muller (CERN)
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25th edition of Joint Universities Accelerator School

 Invented at the turn of the 20th century, at the same time as modern physics was reinventing the concept of the particle, particle accelerators developed as the workhorses of nuclear and particle physics to become the largest scientific instruments ever built by man. Today, they also constitute essential tools for the study of condensed matter and biomolecules, and find numerous societal applications in medical diagnostics and treatment, the polymer and electronic component industries, public security and food and health product safety.

The science and the technology of accelerators are specific domains of physics and engineering in their own right. They must be taught as such, along with their latest developments, to the future designers, builders and operators of these strange machines.  

This is precisely what the Joint Universities Accelerator School (JUAS) has been doing each year since 1994 at ESI-Archamps.  Two specialised 5-week courses are proposed to Master and Doctoral students, as well as young professionals from industry or research centres. The courses are delivered by a faculty comprising some 50 experts from academia, research facilities and industries active in the field. The curriculum is overseen by the Advisory Board in which JUAS’ 16 partner universities are represented. Both courses are concluded by exams enabling partner universities to attribute ECTS and/or doctoral credits to their participating students.  

In all, more than 1000 students have been trained at JUAS since its creation.

Frédérick Bordry, CERN Director of Accelerators and Technology celebrating the 25th edition of JUAS at ESI in February  (Image: ESI-Archamps)

JUAS employs an innovative pedagogical approach, with a unique mix of lectures, tutorials, seminars, group workshops, laboratory visits and practical sessions. The latter include for some students the opportunity to take part in machine development sessions on real accelerators in operation – this year on the synchrotrons of ESRF in Grenoble and on the linear accelerator CLEAR at CERN.  Students also spend two days at the Paul Scherrer Institut near Zürich and a full day at Bergoz Instrumentation. In the words of Jacinta Yap, a PhD student at the University of Liverpool who attended JUAS 2017, “JUAS has been a really great opportunity to learn all about accelerators in a condensed amount of time. I think the biggest take-away for me is that I’m at the beginning of my PhD and so it’s really great to learn about these fundamentals so early on.”

Practical sessions at CERN (Image: ESI-Archamps)

Also to be mentioned is the involvement of JUAS in the production of a MOOC on accelerators, in the framework of the “Training, Communication and Outreach” work package of the H2020 project ARIES.

JUAS is synonymous with diversity: a stimulating mix of physicists and engineers, students and more experienced scientists coming from some 20 countries in Europe, Asia and America. It is worth noting that one third of the 2018 students in Course 1 are female. Such diversity creates exciting opportunities for international and intercultural exchange, and prepares the students for flexible career paths in an increasingly globalised world.

The success of JUAS is in great part due to its intrinsic voluntary nature. This is apparent in the way academic institutions, laboratories and industrial companies allow their staff to teach at JUAS, grant access to their premises and equipment and provide financial support. Likewise the personal commitment of all those involved in running the School. It is only through this voluntary action that we can maintain high standards of teaching while keeping fees to a minimum. In this respect, the true value of JUAS greatly exceeds its financial budget. Our heartfelt thanks to all our partners.

Philippe Lebrun, JUAS Director celebrating the 25th edition of the school with Hermann Schmickler, Director of the CERN Accelerator School and Louis Rinolfi, former JUAS Director (Image: ESI-Archamp)

Long live JUAS … for at least the next 25 years!

Header imageStudents and faculty from JUAS 2018’s second module on the technology and applications of particle accelerators at ESI-Archamps (France) (Image: ESI-Archamps)

Philippe Lebrun, JUAS Director
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AVA – Training (anti)matters

Antimatter experiments are at the cutting edge of science; however, they are very difficult to undertake as antimatter is produced at extremely high energies. The ELENA decelerator at CERN is designed to overcome these problems, catching and slowing antiprotons to energies as low as 0.1 MeV. To fully exploit this novel accelerator, it will be important to train a new researcher generation in experimental design and optimization, advanced beam diagnostics and novel low energy antimatter experiments. AVA is an Innovative Training Network within the H2020 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions created for that purpose. Five universities, eight national and international research centres and thirteen industrial partners are collaborating in this interdisciplinary program.

At the very heart of the AVA network is a series of established and bespoke training events running throughout the project lifespan. From 8th – 12th January 2018, the AVA Fellows attended a Researcher Skills School at the University of Liverpool. They were joined by a student cohort from LIV.DAT, an STFC-funded centre for doctoral training that focusses on challenges arising in Big Data Science. Such a collegiate approach has two distinct advantages: i) the advantages of scale – the costs of training can be shared to bring otherwise unaffordable opportunities to more people, and ii) it brings together trainees from a variety of disciplines to develop personal networks and start interdisciplinary collaborations.


Training at Liverpool – the original ‘red-brick’ University (Image credit: QUASAR Group).

The Researcher Skills School at Liverpool focused on developing skills essential for early stage researchers and included training in project management, peer review and intellectual property rights. A workshop on presentation skills held at The Cockcroft Institute included video recording presentations with feedback from both Fellows and trainers.


Highlights of the week at the University of Liverpool and the Cockcroft Institute (Image credit: QUASAR Group).

Professor Carsten Welsch, who leads both projects, commented, “Liverpool University has an outstanding track record in delivering bespoke postgraduate training courses. This Skills School follows a programme developed through previous training networks and was commended as EU success story by the European Commission as part of past project reviews.

The following week the AVA Fellows attended a bespoke Media Training at MediaCityUK, one of the UK’s premier creative hubs. Throughout their career, successful researchers will need to use professional media techniques to promote and advertise their research. This programme offered them the opportunity to develop these skills by producing their very own project video.

The week began with an overview of the creative process by hosts Carbon Digital before preproduction started. Storyboards were created and professional voice-over artists recorded scripts. The fellows learned about camera techniques and green screen filming and everyone had the opportunity to film and be filmed before the fellows decided amongst themselves who should star in the final cut. They had to consider how to communicate the scientific aims of the AVA project best to a broad and international audience. The postproduction process can be as intense and creative as preproduction and production combined. It offers dynamic opportunities to change the storyboard, soundscape and visuals. The Fellows actively engaged in postproduction to explain how antimatter is created at CERN, and how ELENA will help open up entirely new research opportunities.


Training with host Carbon Digital at MediaCityUK (Image credit: QUASAR Group).

Sue McHugh from Carbon Digital said, “It has been inspiring to see researchers from across the world come together to create such a high quality final film. This is an example of successful industry-academia collaboration which can only help improve the overall employment prospects of the researchers.

The AVA project film can be seen here.

After such an intense training fortnight, the AVA Fellows are now concentrating on their research until summer, when they will attend a week-long International School on Low Energy Antimatter Physics. This will be held between 25th - 29th June at CERN. and will be followed by hands-on training days on Detectors and Beam Diagnostics offered by Stahl Electronics and Bergoz Instrumentation, respectively.

The Summer School, open to all interested researchers, will address challenges in antimatter facility design and optimization, beyond state of the art beam diagnostics and advanced detectors, as well as novel antimatter experiments. In addition to lectures by research leaders, there will be study groups, a poster session and a dedicated industry session. There will also be opportunities for discussion and networking at evening events and tours of CERN’s unique accelerator facilities. 

Martin Bellwood (University of Liverpool)
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