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Visit from accelerator physicist

Visit from accelerator physicist
Monday 30th November 2015 by C. Freeman

Accelerator physicist Hayley Smith visited Brooke Weston recently to talk to some of our Year 10 students about the different careers available in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries.

Hayley was educated locally and was awarded a degree in physics from the University of York. She now works as an Accelerator Physicist at the ISIS Neutron Source, at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire. She spoke about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in CERN (Switzerland), which is probably the world’s best-known particle accelerator with a circumference of 17 miles, and also estimated that there are around 26,000 particle accelerators in operation worldwide with a range of applications besides particle physics experiments, from x-ray scanning security applications to medical uses such as radiotherapy units.

She said: ‘What the LHC is doing is taking protons, sub-atomic particles, sending them around in a circle whilst accelerating them to almost the speed of light and then smashing them together to create high energy collisions which help to unlock new areas of physics and understand conditions during the Big Bang and origins of the universe - it is probably the most famous example of a particle accelerator. Particle accelerators are also set to have a big influence in the future with the rise of proton therapy. This medical technique uses a particle accelerator to deliver protons for irradiating cancer tumours, similar to radiotherapy, with the control over how the protons deposit their energy in the tumour giving big advantages over conventional treatments. There are two proton therapy centres planned to open in the UK in the next couple of years. I think it’s important to emphasise that there are many different uses for particle accelerators worldwide and also that their design, construction and operation relies on a STEM based work-force.’

She spoke about her work on particle accelerators at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and demonstrated the science behind them using a Van De Graaff generator and a laser to explain some of the neutron science principles at work.

Afterwards teacher Mr Bebb said: ‘It is about targeting students and making them aware of what opportunities are available in that area. Hayley explained about her qualifications and career as she works at a smaller version of the LHC. It was important because the students don’t necessarily understand how diverse physics is and what potential professions are available to them.’

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