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Outreach award for initiative to teach high-school physics with CERN detectors in Spain


Rafael Ballabriga and Minipix
Minipix detectors can be directly connected to computers, which allows them to be used in classrooms (Image: CERN)

Since their inception at CERN in the framework of the Medipix collaborations, the Medipix and Timepix families of chips have proved their worth in various technical and scientific fields, from medical imaging to astrophysics – Timepix chips are flying on the Artemis I mission this month. Yet, in parallel, these extremely compact and highly accurate particle detectors are infiltrating a more ordinary environment: secondary school classrooms. 

CERN microelectronics experts, secondary school teachers in Catalonia and researchers at the University of Barcelona have teamed up to facilitate the dissemination of Minipix detectors (a commercially available USB readout system incorporating the Timepix chip) in Spanish secondary schools, while similar initiatives are flourishing in other European countries too. The project team has established a network of schools that share Minipix detector systems and prepared classroom activities to help teachers maximise the chips’ educational potential. 

With nothing more than the Minipix detector and a computer, background radiation can be visualised in real time and perfectly safely. Different naturally occurring particle species (alphas, betas, gammas and cosmic muons) can be distinguished by the characteristic traces they leave in the detector. Experimenting with the device can help pupils attain their educational goals in physics and technology, of course, but also in biology, computer science and mathematics, as laid out in the document presenting the project to the Spanish National Centre for Particle, Astroparticle and Nuclear Physics (Centro Nacional de Física de Partículas, Astropartículas y Nuclear, CPAN). 

The initiative was granted an outreach award by a panel of CPAN judges on 25 November. Daniel Parcerisas (Sagrada Familia, Gava) accepted the award at the CPAN 2022 annual meeting in Bilbao, Spain, on behalf of the awarded team, composed of Rafael Ballabriga (EP-ESE-ME, CERN), Eugeni Graugés (University of Barcelona), Anna Argudo (University of Barcelona), David Corrons (La Salle Manlleu), Iolanda Huguet (INS Mollerusa IV), Esther Pallares (University of Barcelona), Hernan Pino (Institut Sant Nicolau, LIWU), Francesc Salvat (SY-STI-BMI, CERN) and Sonia Tarancon (Santo Angel).

The jury rewarded the project’s originality and didactic potential and underlined the efforts made by the team to adapt the experiments to students with special educational needs. The award, besides providing further financial support, bolsters the project and similar initiatives throughout Europe, showcasing the role that institutions such as CERN can play in improving the way physics is taught in schools.


If you are interested in gaining access to the hybrid pixel detector technology on which the Timepix photon detectors are based, please contact CERN’s Knowledge Transfer group.

CERN’s engineers, technicians and scientists develop novel technologies and expertise contributing to applications in fields beyond high-energy physics, addressing global societal challenges in areas such as aerospace. Find out more about aerospace applications of CERN technologies here.