CERN as you've never seen it before

13 December 2017

UK teenagers have created an interactive museum of one of the world’s most famous science experiments – the ATLAS detector at the Large Hadron Collider – in the virtual land of Minecraft.

The secondary school students have helped to create a replica of CERN, complete with its buildings and beamline tunnels, with the ATLAS experiment as a centrepiece. Using the 3D building blocks in Minecraft, the students and their mentors built an entire video game landscape from scratch.

The teenagers collaborated with ATLAS scientists to create the interactive museum of particle physics, using Minecraft constructions to explain the workings and function of different ATLAS detector parts.

ATLAS physicist Dr Mark Pickering, the school liaison funded by the project, said: “The students did an incredible job in creating fun, interactive games and simulations that explain how we collect data from the LHC's high energy collisions using the ATLAS detector. In addition to the museums in Geneva, we now have a virtual museum accessible to anyone all over the world.”

Soon the world they have created will be open to the public – and anyone exploring the map will find striking images of the detector accompanied by detailed explanations, and mini-games to explore the world of particle physics that were created by the students.

The project was funded by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), as a Public Engagement award, and also by the ATLAS Outreach Group. The aim of the project was to engage young people with particle physics and the exciting science taking place at CERN, by using the popular video game.

During the process of building the ATLAS detector, the students learned about how particle detectors work, and incorporated their observations into the game.

Year 11 Fitzharrys School pupil Billy Burnham, one of the pupils involved in the Minecraft build, said: “At the beginning of the project I had no knowledge of how the LHC worked – I just passed it off as ‘too hard for me’. I am extremely glad to have learnt how it works now.”

Maja Glogowska, a year 10 student from Didcot Girls’ School who was involved in the project, added: “I have learnt a bit about the Standard Model, which has sparked a wider interest in physics, and I have learnt more about the LHC overall.”

The students, who range in age from 13 to 15, also hailed from Abingdon School and Portsmouth Grammar School. ATLAS physicists from the University of Birmingham and University of Oxford offered guidance to the pupils, with support from the Institute for Research in Schools, the Abingdon Science Partnership, and CERN.

Jeremy Thomas, Coordinator of Abingdon Science Partnership & Science Teacher, Abingdon School, said: “It has been a truly rewarding experience and the ‘buzz’ amongst all the pupils at our team meetings has been inspirational.”

“I enjoyed the inspiration of the pupils, the collaboration between schools, and the desire to learn generated by the pupils themselves.”

Dr Steve Worm from the University of Birmingham was one of the principal investigators (PI) for the project. He said: “The students did some really amazing things. They learned about the ATLAS detector and thought of some fantastic and creative ways to illustrate each part of the detector. It will be great to show my children where I work in Minecraft.”

“Despite working there for decades, I also learned a lot about CERN and the workings of the Large Hadron Collider and the underground tunnels. CERN is a fascinating place.”

Fellow PI Professor Cigdem Issever, of the University of Oxford, said: “It is amazing. It is really cool to see the ATLAS detector and LHC tunnels in Minecraft. I’m looking forward to using this as a way to make my research more accessible, starting with primary school students.”

The ATLAS Minecraft world will open to the public on December 13 – when Minecraft gamers will be able to explore the world-famous science facility themselves through the game, or make their own changes to it.

To explore the virtual world or find out more about the project, visit the ATLAS Craft webpage.

STFC & CERN

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) co-ordinates and manages the UK’s involvement and subscription with CERN. The UK’s influence on both CERN Council and CERN Finance Committee is coordinated through the UK Committee on CERN (UKCC).

UK membership of CERN gives our physicists and engineers access to the experiments and allows UK industry to bid for contracts, UK nationals to compete for jobs and research positions at CERN, and UK schools and teachers to visit. UK scientists hold many key roles at CERN. Firms in the UK win contracts for work at CERN worth millions of pounds each year. The impact of winning contracts is often even greater as it enables companies to win business elsewhere.

Last updated: 13 December 2017

Science and Technology Facilities Council
Switchboard: +44 (0)1793 442000