Competition: a beamline for schools

CERN is making a fully equipped beamline available for a team of school students to run an experiment

World map showing the locations, in blue, of the 455 teams registered for the Beamline for Schools competition (Image: Kristin Kaltenhauser)

CERN is famous for the Large Hadron Collider, but there’s much more to the laboratory than that. A large part of CERN’s research and development is carried out using fixed-target beamlines, which are used for a variety of experiments that range from investigating the inner workings of protons to probing the mysteries of antimatter. In 2014, to coincide with its 60th anniversary, CERN is making a fully equipped beamline available for a team of school students to run an experiment. Physicists, engineers and experts in data acquisition and analysis are offering students guidance. Beam time will be allocated by scientific competition, just as it is allocated for all CERN experiments.

The competition is for teams of high-school students aged 16 and up. Teams can be composed of up to 30 students with at least one adult supervisor, or "coach". Up to nine of the team members and two coaches would come to CERN to run the team's experiments. Proposals will be pre-selected by a committee of CERN scientists, and the shortlist will be sent to the SPSC, the committee that validates all proposals for experiments at the laboratory’s SPS and PS accelerators.

Student teams should carefully study the information about the beamline and experimental facilities (available for download below) and tell us why they think they should win the chance to carry out experiments at the world’s leading laboratory for particle physics.

Proposals will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  1. Motivation of the students
  2. Creativity
  3. Feasibility of the proposal
  4. Demonstration of ability to follow the scientific method

How to take part

There is stiff competition for access to the laboratory's unique facilities; all CERN experiments must be approved by a scientific committee. A successful application process by a collaboration wishing to run an experiment at CERN tends to follow this pattern:

  1. The collaboration submits a letter of intent to the committee.
  2. The committee invites the collaboration to submit a full proposal.
  3. The collaboration submits a full proposal.
  4. If the collaboration's experiment is accepted, it is integrated to the laboratory's research programme.

The Beamline for Schools will follow the same pattern:

  1. Teams register (their expression of intent) - deadline: 31 January 2014
  2. Teams submit a full proposal - deadline: 31 March 2014
  3. All proposals are considered by a team of CERN scientists, and a shortlist prepared for the SPSC - key factors at this stage are motivation and creativity
  4. The SPSC considers the shortlisted teams and selects one - May 2014
  5. Nine members of the winning team, plus up to two adult coaches, come to CERN to carry out their experiment - sometime in August, September or October 2014, the exact time to be agreed between CERN and the winning team.

Find out more

Watch the recordings of Google hangouts in English, French, Italian, Spanish and German, in which CERN scientists answer questions about the competition. Also watch CERN scientists give an introduction into particle physics, beamlines and possible experiments at the T9 beamline in English, French, Italian, Spanish and German. Follow CERN on Twitter, Facebook or Google+ to stay up-to-date.

Please note that submissions may be made in English or French, the official languages of CERN.

You are also welcome to contact us directly via Please note that there will be a lot of questions from all over the world and we recommend to get in touch with your local contact first. Regular updates about the competition will be available here.

Registration (now closed)

455 teams registered before the deadline of midnight CET on Friday 31 January 2014. Registrants will receive information by email on how to submit a full proposal.

Please note that while up to 30 students may be on a team, only nine students (all at least 16 years old on the first day of their visit to CERN) will be able to come to CERN; other team members may participate remotely through data analysis and live streaming. Teams will not be judged on their 140-character statement, but some statements may be featured by CERN in its own communications.


Students must work together to create a proposal in two parts:

  1. A written proposal of up to 1000 words that may be supported by diagrams or pictures. It explains
    • Why you want to come to CERN;
    • What you hope to take away from the experience;
    • Your initial thoughts on how you would like to use the particle beamline for your experiment.
  2. A 1-minute video that summarizes your written proposal in a creative, entertaining way.

Note that the above points will be judged equally. We are not expecting a fully developed experimental proposal with a detailed setup and hypothesis. An idea on what you and your team want to find out or how you want to use the beamline communicated in a creative way is enough to take part. So don't worry if the technical details of the beamline facilities (see download below) look a little daunting at first, we've also provided an example experiment and you can base your proposal on that if you wish.

Adults are encouraged to help students understand what the particle beam is capable of, but the students must create the proposal themselves. The winning team will have the opportunity to work with CERN scientists to refine their ideas before they come to CERN.

Proposals must be received by midnight CET on 31 March 2014. Winners will be notified in May 2014.

The prizes

The first prize is a trip to CERN to carry out experiments at CERN sometime in August, September or October 2014, the exact time to be agreed between CERN and the winning team (dates in July are no longer possible due to ongoing work in the test beam area). The winning team or teams will be invited to CERN for a period of one week to carry out experiments on the beamline. Financial assistance will be provided to help cover their travel and accommodation expenses for the trip to CERN in Geneva.

The team will be divided into three groups that will rotate between three locations. Location one is the CERN Control Centre, from which all CERN’s accelerators are operated. There, students will work with the machine operators to deliver the beam to the East Hall experimental area where their beamline is situated. Location two is the East Hall control room, from which students will be able to fine-tune the beam being sent to their experiment. Location three is the control room for the experiment itself. Members of the team that do not come to CERN will still be able to take part in the data analysis and participate in the experiment via the exchange of web-based data.

All proposals that were complete and were submitted on time, or extracts from them, may be showcased on the CERN website after the competition closes, and CERN will issue certificates to the teams that submitted them. In addition, the groups will receive priority should they wish to organize a visit to CERN or take part in a particle physics masterclass, and their teachers will receive priority should they wish to apply for CERN’s high-school teacher programmes.

Terms and conditions

Thank you very much for your participation! Please note that by entering in the competition, you understand and agree to the following conditions:

  1. Please note that CERN must have received your proposal by midnight CET on 31 March 2014. We regret that late or non-compliant submissions shall not be considered;
  2. If you are under 18, you must provide a written consent by your parents or guardians for your participation in the competition;
  3. Please do not include inappropriate, unlawful or offensive content in your proposal;
  4. Make sure to keep a backup copy of your proposal;
  5. Kindly note that others may develop and submit proposals that are similar or identical to yours, independently from your own proposal;
  6. CERN reserves the right to select several proposals if they are similar or identical. In this case the winning teams shall work together and execute their proposals as a single experiment.
  7. You have obtained all rights and permissions from any person who may have participated in, or contributed to the creation of your proposal; please respect copyright!
  8. If your proposal wins the competition, you authorize CERN to publish it in its entirety in the context of the competition and use it for its education and outreach activities. All other proposals will be published in the context of the competition and used by CERN for its education and outreach activities by way of extracts.
  9. We may request further information from you in the selection process, if this is helpful for the evaluation of your proposal;
  10. CERN reserves the right to postpone, suspend or cancel the competition at any time in case of insufficient participation;
  11. CERN will apply utmost care to the selection of the winning proposal(s). Unfortunately, we are not in a position to communicate the reasons for any non-selection. The selection decisions are not subject to claim or appeal.


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