Pupils win international science contest

The St John’s College and Barnato Park High School team with Dr Colleen Henning (middle), head of science department at St John’s College and Prof. Simon Connell (middle) of the University of Johannesburg.

Accelerating Africa, the winning South African team, was a collaboration between boys in Grade 11 from both schools. The name was chosen as the team wanted to demonstrate that by working together, pupils with a passion for science from different backgrounds could be an example of what science education in South Africa could achieve.

Inspired by 2015 being named the International Year of Light by the United Nations, their project involved producing high-energy gamma rays using a crystalline undulator.

Colleen Henning, head of the science department at St John’s College said, “This is an incredible achievement for South Africa, St John’s College, Barnato Park High School and the students involved. We are extremely grateful to CERN for this opportunity for ourselves and our country.”

CERN is best known for its Large Hadron Collider (at 27km, the world’s largest particle accelerator) and finding the Higgs boson (an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics).

The council runs the Beamline for Schools Competition, which makes a fully-equipped beamline (a beam of accelerated particles along a specific path of an accelerator facility) available for high school students to conduct experiments in the same way that researchers do at the Large Hadron Collider and other CERN facilities.

In proposals of fewer than 1 000 words, teams had to explain why they wanted to visit CERN, what they hoped to take away from the experience and give initial thoughts on how they would use the particle beam for their experiment.

A total of 119 teams consisting of 1 050 high school pupils around the world entered the competition.

Teams of CERN scientists evaluated proposals based on creativity, motivation, feasibility and scientific method. After two rounds of evaluation, 13 teams were highly commended and put forward for final selection by an official CERN committee.

In Geneva, CERN announced that two teams had been selected to travel to its facility in September to carry out their own experiments using a CERN accelerator beam. South Africa’s Accelerating Africa team will be joined in Geneva by the Leo4G team of Liceo Scientifico Leonardo da Vinci School in Florence, Italy.

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