by Fabiola Cacciatore
IPPOG: 25th years of public commitment
The particle physics community has a moral obligation to inform the public on its activities. To do this well, experiences must be shared among countries in view of the need to optimise the use of resources
These were the words of the former-CERN Director General Chris Llewellyn Smith during the first EPOG meeting in September 1997.
Still today, these goals continues to be a cornerstone of one of the largest science outreach groups in the world: the International Particle Physics Outreach Group (IPPOG).
Twenty-five years ago, the European Particle Physics Outreach Group (EPOG) was formed under the joint auspices of the European Committee for Future Accelerators (ECFA) and the High Energy Particle Physics Board of the European Physical Society (EPS-HEPP). The first EPOG meeting was held at CERN on September 19, 1997, under the chairmanship of Prof. Frank Close (Oxford University).
The motivation for the formation of the group was to create a mechanism to define common priorities and collective decision-making regarding education and outreach efforts in particle physics. Initially the group included a delegate from each CERN member state, an additional member of CERN and DESY, a chair and a vice-chair appointed by the ECFA and EPS-HEPP, and associated members within the community, currently active in public outreach.
IPPOG’s worldwide activities have grown ever since. To celebrate the International Year of Physics in 2005, EPOG inaugurated the first edition of the International Masterclasses - a hands-on particle physics programme. The preparation of this program started in 2003, two years before the official launch. In order to have everything ready for the start of this prodigious program, a website translated into 14 languages was created using software packages based on event visualisation tools from the LEP experiments DELPHI and OPAL.
About 3000 students participated in 58 institutes from 18 countries during two weeks in March 2005, becoming “Scientist for a day,” using either the “Hands-on CERN” or “Keyhole to the birth of time” packages, based on DELPHI real data, or the “Identifying particles'' package, based on OPAL real data. At the end of the day students connected in a video-conference supported by CERN. Since that day on, this activity has been organised every year, evolving to become IPPOG’s flagship programme for thousands of students from around the world.
Today’s Masterclasses are based on the real data of a variety of active particle physics experiments, including ATLAS, CMS, ALICE, LHCb, MINERvA and Belle II. They also include a new hadron therapy Masterclass developed by GSI in Germany.
Over the years, more and more non-member states of CERN took part in EPOG’s activities. In October 2010 during the fall EPOG meeting, Chairs David Barney and Michael Kobel noted that there were more than “40 non-member and observer states of CERN participating in LHC experiments, some of which had well-advanced outreach programs.” The group enthusiastically agreed to an international expansion and, in November 2010, EPOG became IPPOG, the International Particle Physics Outreach Group.
As the group expanded, so did the reach and size of its global programmes. To support this growth in a structured and sustainable manner the group agreed to form an official collaboration, gathering dues from its members to support the necessary infrastructure. Chairs Marjorie Bardeen and Hans Peter Beck oversaw the drafting of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), in which member countries, experiments and laboratories committed to support worldwide particle physics outreach. With the 10th signature in December, 2016, a collaboration was born.
Today the IPPOG collaboration has 39 members: 32 countries, 6 experiments and CERN as an international laboratory, and 2 associate members: DESY and GSI as national laboratories. It has grown into a global network of scientists, educators and communication specialists working to develop and share best practices in science education and public engagement for particle physics.
IPPOG has become global, effective and sustainable. And the growth continues. Many of the students who attended IPPOG’s masterclasses in the past are now moderators, teaching the next generation. Others have continued on to become scientists themselves, or at least responsible citizens who support science and evidence-based decision making.
As an International Collaboration bound by its MoU, IPPOG is governed by a Collaboration Board comprising representatives of the Members (countries, international particle physics laboratories and experiments) and Associate Members (national laboratories).
Two Chairpersons are elected by the Collaboration Board for up to two 3-year terms. They direct activities by leading the Core Team (Scientific Secretary, Communication Officer and other members of the staff). To know more about the structure of the IPPOG coordination team click here.
IPPOG’s principal aim is to maximise the impact of education and outreach efforts related to particle physics. IPPOG’s purpose is to raise standards of global outreach and informal science education efforts of particle physics, to communicate its results and findings to the public, to bring new discoveries in all areas of particle physics research to young people.
The beauty of nature is indeed becoming understandable from the interactions of its most fundamental constituents - the elementary particles.
Over the years, the International Masterclasses programmes have been very successful, so much so that today there are more than 13,000 students from 60 countries joining the program. The appointment is repeated every year during the spring period (generally from March to May). With these immersive days in the world of particle physics, students can learn the basics of research by analysing true data and get a taste of the methods and discussions that are an essential part of
Another highly effective manner to reach into classrooms around the world is through the construction and operation of cosmic ray detectors. Simple counters are very inexpensive and some programmes even allow classrooms to participate using data taken by students in other schools. IPPOG’s Global Cosmics programme supports a single portal incorporating a variety of such projects located around the world. It’s International Cosmic Day and International Muon Week, supported by DESY and QuarkNet, reach classrooms everywhere, and their remote nature allowed for substantial growth even during the global COVID pandemic.
This connection to astroparticle physics gives students a glimpse into the world of particle physics that existed before the development of high energy accelerators, helping them to understand important motivation for the field, and allowing them to make meaningful measurements with real data.
A fabulous novelty that attracts the public is surely the recent Particle Therapy Masterclass, which demonstrates the direct impact of fundamental research on medical applications. This Masterclass Project allows participants to familiarize themselves with the actual operating technique used to treat cancer by employing X-rays, protons or carbon ions as a physical knife directed by software programs. There masterclasses are coordinated by GSI.
After years of planning and work, in the spring of 2022, IPPOG published a new website full of information and news. In particular, the developers have created a vast resources database made available for students and teachers, some of which have been translated into various languages.
Commitment to diversity and inclusion
Diversity and inclusion have always been an important topic for IPPOG. This is because particle physics – in fact, all science – has no boundaries, and is blind to skin colour, gender and age. The basic assumption is that science is for everyone and for the good of all. Even more important, we have learned that diverse national, social and cultural backgrounds improve our ability to do science, as it provides a larger pool of ideas and points of view, both invaluable to research.
One successful example of inclusion activities made by IPPOG every year is our dedicated Masterclass held on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This event attracts young women and girls, as well as young men and boys, who attend Masterclasses with women mentors, providing important role models, and answering questions about both physics and the challenges of being a woman in the field.
Similarly, IPPOG's Working Group on diversity and inclusiveness seeks to extend the reach of all programmes to the most remote communities, including those that are not equipped with cutting-edge tools. Masterclasses have been held in locations without internet or, in some cases, very limited computing.
Concerning international diversity, this past year, IPPOG continued its presence in Nepal, with co-Chair Steven Goldfarb traveling to meet high-school students at Kathmandu University in Dhulikhel in the spring. IPPOG also held the first International Masterclass in Pakistan and had plans to for the first one in Kharkov, Ukraine, which was unfortunately cancelled due to the Russian invasion.
Per aspera ad astra
The difficulties are certainly not missed along the IPPOG’s trail. Especially in recent times. The serenity of the whole world has been severely tested, also affecting the activities of IPPOG. As with the rest of the world, in 2020 activities had to stop due to the virus Covid-19. But this hasn't stopped the urge to outreach particle physics. Thanks to video technology, the International Masterclasses continued to take place remotely. While the audience reach was reduced, these new methods will be combined with in-person classes in the years to come, in order to reach more diverse and remote audiences.
Also, the war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022 has destabilised what appeared to be a thriving post-pandemic recovery. In this case too, the IPPOG activities have suffered repercussions. The international masterclasses planned for students from both countries have been suspended. In February 2022, the IPPOG collaboration published a statement of support for Ukrainian citizens, with the promise to bring science to the young students as soon as the war is over.
In a world where scientists, teachers and students across the planet have learned to cooperate to understand and solve the most complex problems of our universe, there is no room for war
With the hope of a future full of interesting events and new collaborations, we wish a happy 25th birthday IPPOG. To celebrate this milestone the collaboration has organised a public Symposium moderated by the two current co-Chairs Steven Goldfarb (University of Melbourne) and Pedro Abreu (University of Lisbon), which will take place on 29 October 2022 at the CERN Globe of Science and Innovation.
Registrations are open.
On the behalf of the whole IPPOG collaboration we hope to see you there!