Classroom Activities

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Below you will find some ideas how to introduce particle physics in your classroom in a hands-on way. If you visit us in S'Cool LAB, you can have a look at all the listed equipment and take a printed copy of our tour guide "A hands-on tour through particle physics on a small budget".

Cloud Chamber

Cloud Chamber

The cloud chamber was one of the first particle detectors. Today, cloud chambers are only used in education. It is very easy to build a cloud chamber with everyday material, dry ice, and Isopropyl alcohol. Below we provide a DIY manual including many information on how to interpret the observations, and what do with cloud chamber (e.g. using balloons as radioactive sources).


ATLAS Magnet Model

Cloud Chamber

The ATLAS detector, the largest particle detector at the LHC, is one the most complex machines ever built. However, due to its complexity, explaining the ATLAS detector at a high-school level can be challenging. Below, we show how to use 3D printers (or straws & cardboard) to build a model of the toroidal ATLAS magnet system. We also suggest learning activities for the physics classroom.


Model for 3D printing: Build your own functional model of the ATLAS toroidal magnet system

Model with straws: Build a model of the toroidal ATLAS magnet system with everyday material

Bubble Chamber Pictures for the Classroom

Bubble Chamber

Bubble chambers were the dominant experimental tools of particle physicists in the 1950s and 60s. They supplanted cloud chambers and lead to the Nobel Prize in Physics 1960. Bubble chambers and cloud chambers work in a very similar way. And although it is not possible to build a bubble chamber in the classroom, students can analyse bubble chamber tracks and learn more about particle identification, e.g. after having built and observed cloud chambers.

Woithe, J., Schmidt, R., Naumann, F. (2018). Student worksheet & solutions: Bubble chamber pictures. docx, pdf (version 12-03-2018)

This worksheet is based on images recorded by the 2 m bubble chamber at CERN on 10 August 1972. The bubble chamber was exposed to a beam of protons from CERN’s proton synchrotron PS with a momentum of 24 GeV/c. The original pictures as well as the pictures with coloured tracks can be found online:

Read more about this classroom activity in 'Science in School': Woithe, J., Schmidt, R., Naumann, F. (2019). Track inspection: how to spot subatomic particles, Science in School, 46, page 40-47


3D-printable Quadrupole Ion Trap


Quadrupole ion traps can be used to trap electrically charged particles. At CERN, the GBAR experiment at the antimatter factory uses this particle trap to store anti-hydrogen-ions. Below you can find building instruction for 3D-printable quadrupole ion trap capable of trapping electrically charged "macroscopic particles" such as cinnamon of lycopodium spores. The quadrupole ion trap operates using a 3 kV 50Hz alternating current power supply and uses an astable multivibrator circuit to illuminate the spores, using the stroboscopic effect to exhibit their movement. In addition, we provide worksheets to help students discover the physics behind these traps.

Read a short paper about the design of the trap here. All files can be found on Zenodo (DOI 10.5281/zenodo.1251786): DIY Manual and Student Worksheets, STL files for 3D printing & Modifiable Design Files F3D Fusion 360 files


Quark Puzzle

Quarks are fundamental particles in the Standard Model of particle physics. They make up the protons and neutrons that we are familiar with, but also a zoo of other more exotic particle systems like pions and kaons. Quarks have never been isolated; they always form groups of two or three. But what are the rules that govern these quarks systems?

Find out more with the quark puzzle, a set of 3D printable pieces that represent quarks. Each piece is labelled with a quark type, electric charge and colour charge, and has joints that allow it to connect to other quark pieces. You can use these to discover the rules of the strong interaction and colour charge, or to build your own models of particle systems. The 2D version of this puzzle was orgininally proposed by Gettrust, E. (2010). The quark puzzle: a novel approach to visualizing the color symmetries of quarks. The Physics Teacher, 48(5), 312-315.

There are different sets available:

If you would like to use the quark puzzle as a classroom activity, there are also worksheets, solutions and a teacher guide: Teacher Manual and Solutions, Scaffolded Worksheet, Open Inquiry Worksheet

Particle Physics Games

Would you like to introduce your students to particle physics through games? Do you have some spare time at the end of the year and need something educational to occupy your students? Do you love both board games and particle physics?

There are a number of particle physics games that you can use in the classroom that are freely available.

  • Particle Identities by Julia Woithe, Hashim Syed, Irtaza Syed, Susanne Dührkoop, Lachlan McGinness, Kitti Lai, Alex Brown
    An online personality quiz consisting of 7 questions and explanations to find out which elementary particle fits your personality best. Particle designs from The Particle Zoo. Available in 12 Languages. Material: Online quiz (URL: Offline Version can be downloaded for different OS: MACOSX, Windows, Linux (Download, Extract the .zip file and read the instructions.txt file)
  • Particle Builder (Particle Physics Board Game) by Lachlan McGinness, Harri Leinonen and Rowan McGinness
    A board game designed to introduce students in groups of 2-3 players to particle physics at different difficulty levels. Material: Boardgame, cards, and instructions
  • Elementary particle cards by Netzwerk Teilchenwelt
    A set of 61 particle cards including particle properties to introduce elementary particles into the classroom with different activities such as sorting exercises, triplet game, four corners game. Material: English cards & English instructions (German and Spanish versions available online)

3D-Printable Mystery Box

Mystery boxes are a great tool to practice scientific reasoning skills and to introduces students to the power of scientific models. Students develop hypotheses about the internal structure of a mystery box, and come up with ideas how to test their hypotheses through indirect observation. In this case, a 5 mm steal ball is enclosed in the box, students observe the sound is makes when moving the box. Students then modify or replace their models if they do not explain all their observations. As a second level, give them a small neodym rod magnet (such as S-05-14-N) for more accurate observations.

We provide 3D designs for 11 different internal structures covering different difficulty levels. We know it’s temping, but NEVER open the box, that’s not how science works. If you cannot resist the temptation, glue the lid and the base together (that's what we did). You don’t have a 3D printer? Check out cardboard or pipe alternatives, e.g. developed by the Perimeter Institute.

Scattering Experiment

Scattering experiments (e.g. Rutherford’s gold foil experiment) are important research tools of nuclear and particle physics. They help us to study interactions between particles and to obtain information about the structure of matter. You can introduce your students to the concepts of scattering experiments with everyday equipment such as marbles or tennis balls and cardboard, or use a 3D printer.

We provide 3D printable files for a scattering experiment with 5 mm steal balls (ball bearings).

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