Waterloo Science students reflect on their experience at CERN

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Charging Cavaliers and Ambassador of Canada to Switzerland group photo Last September, Paul McKarris and Marina Robin were part of a group of Canadian students who won the opportunity to test their high school experiment at CERN. Now, first-year Waterloo Science students McKarris and Robin share their experience at the Beamline for Schools Competition.

The team, the Charging Cavaliers, was put together by McKarris and consisted of seven females and six males. They beat 180 teams from 43 countries to become the first Canadian high school team to win the international competition since it began in 2014.

“I came up with the idea to compete for the CERN Beamline for Schools 2017 competition. I grew up in Switzerland and was exposed to CERN and particle physics all my life so I brought this idea back with me,” says McKarris, a 1B Mathematical Physics student.

The CERN Beamline for Schools is an annual competition where teams of high school students develop an experiment to test at CERN, the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. In addition to their application, the students provided a one minute video about their proposed experiment.

Marina Robin explaning the experiment Marina Robin, pictured centre, working in the CERN lab.

Their experiment was focused on trying to detect theoretical particles carrying a fractional charge. Fractionally charged particles, or FCPs, are thought to occur as a natural product of particles colliding with a target. The search for these FCPs has advanced over many years through the efforts of many direct experiments and indirect observations. McKarris’ team developed an experiment to detect these hypothetical particles through proton interactions with a block of iron using the Proton Synchrotron at CERN.

The experiment lasted ten days in CERN’s fixed-target beam facilities. The team spent a week on equipment calibration and three days performing the experiment and collecting data.

“We were receiving protons at 24 GeV/c that were interacting with a first target and creating secondary beams and later on hit a secondary target made of iron and hopefully create FCP,” says McKarris.

Currently, they are still analyzing the data collected from the experiment and have no finalized results. McKarris knows more experimentation will be needed before any conclusions can be drawn. He hopes to continue the research with a supervisor at Waterloo.

McKarris’ classmate Marina Robin, now a 1B Honours Science student with Conditional Admission to Pharmacy (CAP), was also part of the Charging Cavaliers student team at CERN.

“The opportunity to conduct an experiment like this in first year was not something that everyone gets, it was a great opportunity,” says Robin. “The experiment provided a great opportunity to see how the scientific method is performed.”

McKarris is set to present at the Phys 10 seminar for undergraduate students this week.