Last week, my peers and I had the pleasure of attending a Particle physics masterclass at the Royal Holloway University. This particular event was focused on understanding fundamental particles, the research and ongoing development happening at CERN and a talk on the significance of the discovery of the Higgs boson.

At the start of the day, my first session served as an exciting scope into how advances in engineering has lead to the discovery of more natural phenomenon such as cosmic rays. Essentially a history lesson on engineering, but both a practical revision lesson  on particle physics (in case our brains exploded from the sheer amount of information thrown at us). What I thought was most interesting is how extreme advances on the large hadron collider at CERN have also boosted progress on superconducting magnets and improvements on particle accelerators used in hospitals to treat cancers.

The highlight of my trip has got to be the presentation simplifying how the large hadron collider works and how superconducting magnets are involved. It involved passing a magnetic ball through a tube cut it half, then the arrangement of metal rings across the tube acted as an electromagnetic field which in turn pushed the ball along the tube with minimal effort at the start. It even speeded it up as it went along the tube! The second presentation we got was a magnet, previously cooled down in liquid nitrogen, that was seemingly levitating on top a track of magnets! Furthermore, the magnet could still levitate and be pushed around along the course of the track.

Liquid nitrogen is needed to make the material a superconductor, where its resistivity becomes zero at and below its critical temperature. Which is why as time went on in the experiment, the room temperature cooled down the metal itself, therefore it did not ‘levitate’ anymore. The superconductivity and the magnets on the track lead to the quantum locking effect, which allows the levitation of the light object.  

Overall it was an eventful day that has deepened my interest in particle physics. Though I may not study it at university, I would highly encourage anyone interested in physics to visit a master class.