Home Race to Space MAT Science fair

CERN Beam Line for Schools Competition

Tasker Milward Science Department compete for Beam line time at CERN.

CERN is famous for the Large Hadron Collider, but there’s much more to the laboratory than that. A large part of CERN’s research and development is carried out using fixed-target beam lines, which are used for a variety of experiments that range from investigating the inner workings of protons to probing the mysteries of antimatter. In 2014, to coincide with its 60th anniversary, CERN is making a fully equipped beam line available for a team of school students to run an experiment. Physicists, engineers and experts in data acquisition and analysis will offer our students guidance. Beam time will be allocated by scientific competition, just as it is allocated for all CERN experiments.

The team consists of four groups of year 11 triple award students under the guidance of Mr. Sharpe and Mr Gibbs, each assigned different projects towards the proposal.

The spark Detector team:Tom Rich, Morgan Simpson, Marcus Lawson Early, Matthew Overton, Tom Evans

Mission: to build a spark detector to film the interaction of ionising radiation with the air.

C:\Users\Simpsons\Documents\MORGAN\Cern project\IMG_0267.JPG

After a short meeting with everyone interested in the project to discuss and collate potential ideas we split of into several teams.  My team was set the task to prototype and develop a ‘spark detector’ to be able to detect alpha radiation, initially from the school’s alpha sources in the hope that we may be able to similarly detect alpha radiation in the Cern beam line.

C:\Users\Simpsons\Documents\MORGAN\Cern project\IMG_0168.JPG

At first we were not all familiar with the concept of a ‘spark detector’ and we certainly didn’t know how to go about making one.  We thus searched the internet for information and designs which we could use for inspiration in our own build; we particularly liked some of the designs on YouTube.  The piece of equipment relies on the fact that electricity can jump a certain distance in air between two electrodes.  If the distance between the two electrodes is increased by a degree of one or two millimetres then the electricity will no longer be able to jump the gap.  If, however, we alpha radiation is present to ionise the air between the anodes the electricity will be able to jump that little bit further.

C:\Users\Simpsons\Documents\MORGAN\Cern project\IMG_0199.JPG

The first problem we encountered was that we could not effectively control the distance between the two metal electrodes due to our wires being loose and uneven and our lump of aluminium shaking.  We did however test it in this state and found that we were able to detect alpha radiation but only in one or two places after a lot of trial and error.  We soon attempted to fix the issues we encountered and have since developed several new designs such as using the wires in an egg banjo which have been straitened during manufacture.



The Scintillator detector team: Luzelle Davies, Ysabeau Hemmings, Sam Lawrence

Mission: To build a scintillating detector that can be used to find muons from cosmic rays.

Beam Line for Schools
Over the past few weeks, a team of year eleven students have been working together to produce a
proposal for a project which will hopefully be carried out in the particle accelerators in CERN,
Geneva, as part of the 'Beam Line for Schools' competition. We are competing against students
worldwide and hope to present a project worthy of the scientists at CERN. I and two other students
are working on a section of our project which we have named the 'Scintillating team.'

We have sourced materials from America and across the UK and have gathered together a set of equipment
which will hopefully allow us to detect Muons. One of the key pieces of equipment in our setup is a piece of
scintillating plastic.

Our scintillating plastic is made from polyurethane, and the quality of this 'magical' plastic
which makes it so desirable for this experiment is that it when particles hit it, the energy releases photons,
causing the whole block to light up.
In our experiment we will position the scintillating plastic in a completely dark box, which we are having made
out of carbon fibre. There will be a hole into which we will fire muons from the beam line at CERN and inside
the box there will be a photomultiplier tube, which will detect the glow of the scintillating plastic,
sending the energy from the glow to an oscilloscope from which we will take measurements.

The muons which we hope to detect are effectively very large electrons which travel at extremely
high speeds. They travel at approximately the speed of light, and are plummeting through us all the
time. The whole purpose of detecting these muons is that our equipment will detect them and we
hope to use the data we collect to prove whether muons have an effect on the melting polar ice
Our team is working hard to ensure that we meet our proposal deadline, and we are hoping that we
will be able to test our equipment at CERN, quite a step up from our testing using alpha sources!

The Cloud Chamber Team: Warren, Albert Ugwidike, Daniel Davies

Mission: To build a cloud chamber and measure the paths of a range of sub-atomic particles.



The Absorber team: Nusrat Jahan,  Lucy Scale, Rebecca Aubrey, Jade Hughes

To design and build an experiment to investigate the effect of a muon beam on graphite/ carbon nano tubes.

Muons as Charge Carriers

A concept experiment investigating if the current carrying capacity of a material is affected by the charge carriers being, not Electrons, but Muons at 200 times the mass

What we want to study:

We present this conceptual experiment to see if there is a difference between the current carrying capacity of electrons and muons when travelling through graphite.



As muons are approximately 200 times the mass of electrons they may travel slower through the graphite for the same charge carried, or behave in some other unknown manner. 

Graphite has been chosen as the material due to its interesting, non-metalic, conduction properties. It is also thought that any possible effect would be swamped when performing this experiment with a metal.


Experiment proposal:

The above image shows the idea of a test and control graphite. The Muon beam would be targeted upon the test graphite in the hope that some of the Muons may participate in the current conduction during their passage, whilst the control would be free to conduct with only electrons.

The Wheatstone bridge facilitates a finely balanced and precise measure of the difference in current between the two sides of the experiment.

It is hoped that the graphite flooded with incoming Muons might exhibit some differing conduction behaviour.


Preliminary Investigation:


A preliminary investigation was undertaken (see attached photos and video    

  ) to test and demonstrate the concept of the experimental setup and the Wheatstone bridge.


Without a muon beam, a beta-radiation source was used. Results with the beta-source were highly inconclusive, however this was not altogether unexpected  as the beta-particles are themselves electrons.

Undertaking this preliminary investigation did however highlight possible difficulties to be encountered, primarily with the balancing of the two currents, which were kept low to prevent thermal fluctuations.

Going forward with this work towards an experiment which would be worthy of the CERN Muon beam some help would be needed in determining the size of the graphite samples necessary for the Muons to have a meaningful lifetime within them, and in developing the equipment sensitive enough to detect any difference within the confines of the experimental chamber



The prize, an all expenses paid trip to Geneva to conduct their experiment at CERN for one week during the school summer holidays.

What are muons?

an unstable subatomic particle of the same class as an electron (a lepton), but with a mass around 200 times greater. Muons make up much of the cosmic radiation reaching the earth's surface.

Read more about cosmic rays http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_ray



Independent variable:

Dependent variables:

Control Variables:

Success Criteria


Space elevators

Muon absorption by carbon

spark detectors - The Tasker MIlward Spark detector team have built their own spark detector.

scintillating detectors- The tasker Milward Scintillating detecor team have built their own functioning scintillating detector.

cloud chambers- The cloud chamber team


As muons are approximately 200 times the mass of electrons they may travel slower through the graphite for the same charge carried, or behave in some other unknown manner. 

Graphite has been chosen as the material due to its interesting, non-metalic, conduction properties. It is also thought that any possible effect would be swamped when performing this experiment with a metal.

Preliminary work

Work with graphite rods and beta source