High Energy Visit

Imperial College London High Energy Physics.jpg

On the 31st March, I went with a small group of other L6th Physics students on a High Energy Physics course at Imperial College London. We received talks by speakers such as Prof Ulrik Egede, Dr Seth Zenz, Dr Philip Litchfield and Dr Francis Froborg on fascinating topics ranging from dark matter to neutrinos.

Prof UIrik Egede spoke about measuring the lifetime of a D meson, a fairly complicated subject that required an introduction into the nature of quarks, the smallest constituents of matter that we know of. Following that, we mapped the movement of particles from collisions in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) on a computer, tracking them back to their common point and combining our data to approximate the lifetime.

Dr Seth Zenz covered how the LHC works and the various detectors in it such as CMS, ATLAS, and ALICE. He also explained concepts such as the Higgs Mechanism, which interacts with particles so they behave “as if they have mass”. We discovered that the LHC is over 100m below ground, as well as having a 27km circumference.

Dr Philip Litchfield talked about the most exciting topic: neutrinos, a fundamental particle which is one of the most common in the universe. They are electrically neutral and only affected by gravity and the Weak force, making them extremely difficult to detect, as both forces have very little influence at an atomic level. Additionally, they have their own flavour, which corresponds to their mass, however this can change while travelling! As a result, one can use neutrinos to measure time.

We then had a lunch break, where we had refreshments and sandwiches, and spent our time questioning researchers about any concepts we had difficulty understanding. Their passion really came across in their answers, and they were consistently eager to explain all that we wanted to ask.

After a short lunch break, Dr Francis Froborg discussed dark matter and cosmology, a subject that I find particularly interesting. We learnt how very little is known about it, however there is a large amount of evidence that points towards its existence, making it one of the greatest mysteries of the universe. She showed us an animation on the formation of the universe, one that made many of us chatter enthusiastically to each other.

By the end of the day, we were very tired and our brains were almost bursting with so many new ideas to grasp. I think it’s safe to say that we found the trip incredibly stimulating and enjoyable, and would gladly go again.