Bringing CERN
into the classroom


Welcome to the CERN@school "Frequently Asked Questions" page. Hopefully this will answer many of the burning questions you have about the CERN@school programme. If there's something that you think is missing, please contact us and we'll get back to you as soon as we can!

What is CERN@school?

CERN@school is a programme that brings CERN into the classroom. By providing portable CERN detector technology, access to world-class computing facilities, and support from the scientific community, school students (ages 11-19) and teachers are given the chance to develop their own authentic research projects with the ultimate aim of publishing results in peer-reviewed journals. Additionally, teachers can use CERN@school equipment and curriculum linked resources to enhance their teaching of physics and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers with real-world, cutting-edge physics.

What is the Timepix hybrid silicon pixel detector?

CERN@school is based around the Timepix hybrid silicon pixel detector. Originally developed by the Medipix Collaboration for medical X-ray imaging applications, the Timepix detector is a device about the size of a portable hard drive that is capable of providing real-time visualisation of ionising radiation (such as alpha, beta and gamma radiation) anywhere that you can plug in a laptop. It can be used in the classroom to detect and demonstrate the properties of different types of radiation in graphical form, essentially working like an electronic cloud chamber and going far beyond what can be achieved with a Geiger counter. Excitingly, though, it can be used to make research-grade measurements of ionising radiation that can compete with those made by professional scientists. You can read more about it in our review paper here.

I’m a school student. What’s in it for me?

At CERN@school, we believe that even at school you can conduct scientific research that can extend our knowledge of the world and make a real difference. You just need the right tools, techniques and support. So while learning about physics – and science and engineering, for that matter – at school is very important, we think that giving you the chance to actually be a scientist should be a part of your educational journey. So as well as doing real research, there’s the added bonus of knowing what science is actually like before deciding if you want to pursue a career in science and yourself.

I’m an educator. What’s in it for me?

As a CERN@school Educator, you’ll be able to support your students as they conduct their own scientific research and experience the thrill of being a scientist for themselves. You’ll get access to data from the various CERN@school projects, such as the satellite-based LUCID experiment, the Monopole and Exotics Detector at the LHC (MoEDAL), and the TimPix project on board the International Space Station, as well as the resources you will need to conduct research projects. You may also be able to borrow a Timepix detector for your students to use in their research and transform the way that you teach physics. As well as helping with your Continued Professional Development, CERN@school offers the chance to re-engage with scientific research without leaving the classroom. And if that's not enough, CERN@school projects also form an ideal basis for science competitions such as the National Science & Engineering Competition, award schemes such as the British Science Association’s CREST Awards, and Extended Project Qualifications (EPQs).

There are different approaches to using the CERN@school Timepix detector in school. Research projects can be teacher-led or pupil-led. The case studies below outline the different approaches taken by teachers in schools.


Using this approach, teachers use the detector to support various aspects of the curriculum. This can be through a range of investigations and experiments in class before individual pupils or small groups then use the detector for more in-depth investigations. Often the subsequent report is examined and can contribute to their physics qualification or to an EPQ award. The benefit of the detector being used in class alongside relevant topics, is that pupils become familiar with it and how it works before developing an idea for investigation.

  • Dave Cotton from Cardinal Newman Sixth Form College in Preston uses this approach. The detector goes into each class when they are covering radiation and is used to differentiate between the alpha, beta and gamma radiation. By using the detector in this way Dave finds that it provides a very visual way of demonstrating the properties of alpha, beta and gamma. Students then go on to investigate other effects, including the inverse square law. Subsequent to the detector being used in class, Dave establishes a smaller group of students who work outside of timetabled hours to complete an experiment. In 2015/16 students have been working on alpha deflection. They have made predictions, designed the apparatus (based on an idea first developed by Chris Shepherd of the Institute of Physics), collected data and analysed it. Each student is responsible for a different aspect of the experiment and will be writing this up to submit for an EPQ.
  • Derek Osborne of Llandrindod High School and Tim Browett of Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen take a similar approach. They use the detector whenever you would normally use a GM tube. This is a way to highlight the differences between the two pieces of equipment and to show the flexibility of the detector.
    • Tim Browett's pupils first come across it in their National 5 course where they look at the types of radiation and have a chance to investigate half-life. At Higher, pupils can then work in groups of two to three to complete an investigation. Then at Advanced Higher pupils need to complete a piece of work individually to submit. Areas of investigation at Robert Gordon's have so far included half-value thickness, beta deflection and how the detector itself works.
    • Derek Osborne's sixth form pupils carry out experimental work using the detector. They have taken soil samples from a range of areas to test along with vegetation and water samples. This work has been voluntarily carried out in their own time with evenings and weekends being used to collect data and perform analysis.


In some instances, teachers have handed the detector directly to pupils as soon as it was received.

This is the case with Janet McKechnie at Pate's Grammar School. They have a tradition of sixth form pupils carrying out their own research. This is organised by a pupil committee that supports pupils in identifying projects to work on. The research is then normally carried out in their own time. In the past the detector has been used for a project and Pate’s Grammar School pupils have attended and presented at the CERN@school symposium.

This approach is beneficial if the teacher has limited time available and the group of pupils are motivated and have a goal to work towards.

You can read about some of the experimental work completed in schools here .

To find out more about the CERN@school programme and to sign-up your school to host a detector, contact us now .

Getting Started

CERN@school in the UK is supported by the

Science and Techonology Facilities Council.
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