Artistic view of the Higgs Field
Artistic view of the Brout-Englert-Higgs Field (Image: CERN)

 

Schmeling Dr. Sascha Schmeling Wiener Dr. Jeff Wiener
cern.ch/jeff.wiener
Woithe Dr. Julia Woithe
cern.ch/julia.woithe
Horvat Dr. Anja Kranjc Horvat
cern.ch/ahorvat
Chatzidaki Yiota Chatzidaki
Lund University
Dahlkemper Merten Dahlkemper
University of Göttingen
Duggan Ruadh Duggan
Utrecht University
Zöchling Sarah Zöchling
University of Vienna

 

Ongoing doctoral research projects

Panagiota Chatzidaki (2022 – present) 
Design and evaluation of virtual and interactive physics learning units
University of Lund, Prof. U. Eriksson

Driven by the global pandemic, an increasing need for virtual educational tools has pushed S’Cool LAB towards the development of a new virtual learning format, referred to as ‘’Virtual and Interactive Learning Units’’. These units consist of a combination of interactive elements, screen experiments, pre-recorded videos and expert interviews. The aim of Panagiota’s PhD project is to design and evaluate such virtual and interactive learning units about CERN-related physics topics and applications. The effect of the designed units on students’ physics understanding and interest will be examined through a series of questionnaires and interviews.

Ruadh Duggan (2022 – present)
Development of an evaluation protocol for assessing the impact of high-quality science shows at Science Gateway
Utrecht University, Prof. W.R. van Joolingen

CERN’s new project, Science Gateway, will open in 2023. In addition to exhibitions and interactive science labs, it will host science shows, through which visitors of all ages will be able to explore their scientific curiosity, and learn about the science, discoveries and technologies at CERN. The aim of Ruadh’s PhD project is to develop an evaluation protocol for assessing whether science shows at Science Gateway are meeting key objectives, including those relating to the cognitive and affective domains. The testing and evaluation of the science shows will be done in different stages of the development process using a mixed-methods approach.

Merten Dahlkemper (2020 – present)
An investigation on the educational use of Feynman diagrams: practices, opportunities, and challenges
University of Göttingen, Prof. P. Klein & Prof. A. Müller (University of Geneva)

Particle physics is often not covered in high school physics and if it is, in a rather simplistic way. Merten investigates how to incorporate representations used within the discipline of particle physics into learning materials for high school students. He focuses on the use of so-called Feynman diagrams (FD) which are both a representation of particle processes and a calculational tool used in theoretical particle physics. Using these representations, a connection can be built between classical and modern physics topics. The learning materials are designed considering both expert and student perspectives. The expert perspectives lead to learning goals which can be reached using the diagrams while student perspectives give evidence for the ways how the learning materials are useful in order to reach the learning goals.

Sarah Zöchling (2019 – present) 
The role of interesting topics and contexts in physics education
University of Vienna, Prof. M. Hopf

Previous studies show that students’ interest differs across physics topics such as mechanics or electricity, as well as different contexts in which these topics are taught such as medicine or sports. The aim of Sarah’s PhD project is to find out which physics topics and contexts are interesting for today’s students. In particular, she will investigate students' perception of modern physics topics, since open questions of current research might be able to spark students’ interest. Moreover, contexts suitable to narrow the gender gap will be identified. Therefore, questionnaires and interview guidelines will be developed, adapted, and tested, and data from students from various backgrounds will be collected and analyzed.

Fabian Bernstein (2018 – present)
Low-cost modern physics experiments for the classroom: perspectives of students and teachers
University of Frankfurt, Prof. T. Wilhelm

Fabian is investigating how emerging technologies such as 3D printing or augmented reality can be used to bring modern physics experiments to the classroom. In order to facilitate the use of newly developed hands-on activities, he is also seeking to explore teachers’ and students’ perspectives on practical lab work.

Oliver Keller (2017 – present)
Learning about radioactivity using pixel detectors: development and investigation of new experimental tools
University of Geneva, Prof. A. Müller & M. Benoit

Oliver developed a novel educational tool named iPadPix which combines an iPad mini with a Timepix pixel detector from CERN (Medipix collaboration). The device visualises radioactivity in real-time and by means of augmented reality. Since pixel detectors allow to distinguish different particle types and properties like particle energy, they offer unique advantages as educational tools for the physics classroom. Oliver is currently developing a mobile and open pixel detector platform around the Timepix3 chip using energy-efficient multi-core processors. The aim is to improve the accessibility and usability of the technology in different educational settings, indoors as well as outdoors. He is also studying physics experiments which explore the advantages of pixel detectors.


Completed doctoral research projects

Anja Kranjc Horvat (2018 – 2022)
Particle physics in high-school education: what should students and teachers learn?
Potsdam University, Prof. A. Borowski

Elementary particle physics is a contemporary topic in science that is slowly being integrated into high-school education. These new implementations are challenging teachers’ professional knowledge worldwide. Therefore, physics education research is faced with two important questions, namely, how can particle physics be integrated into high-school physics curricula and how best to support teachers in enhancing their professional knowledge of particle physics. This doctoral research project was set up to provide better guidelines for answering these two questions by conducting three studies on high-school particle physics education. First, an expert concept mapping study was conducted to elicit experts’ expectations on what high-school students should learn about particle physics. Overall, 13 experts in particle physics, computing, and physics education participated in 9 concept mapping rounds. The broad knowledge base of the experts ensured that the final expert concept map covers all major particle physics aspects. Specifically, the final expert concept map includes 180 concepts and examples, connected with 266 links and crosslinks. Among them are also several links to students’ prior knowledge in topics such as mechanics and thermodynamics. The high interconnectedness of the concepts shows possible opportunities for including particle physics as a context for other curricular topics. As such, the resulting expert concept map is showcased as a well-suited tool for teachers to scaffold their instructional practice. Second, a review of 27 high-school physics curricula was conducted. The review uncovered which concepts related to particle physics can be identified in most curricula. Each curriculum was reviewed by two reviewers that followed a codebook with 60 concepts related to particle physics. The analysis showed that most curricula mention cosmology, elementary particles, and charges, all of which are considered theoretical particle physics concepts. None of the experimental particle physics concepts appeared in more than half of the reviewed curricula. Additional analysis was done on two curricular subsets, namely curricula with and curricula without an explicit particle physics chapter. Curricula with an explicit particle physics chapter mention several additional explicit particle physics concepts, namely the Standard Model of particle physics, fundamental interactions, antimatter research, and particle accelerators. The latter is an example of experimental particle physics concepts. Additionally, the analysis revealed that, overall, most curricula include Nature of Science and history of physics, albeit both are typically used as context or as a tool for teaching, respectively. Third, a Delphi study was conducted to investigate stakeholders’ expectations regarding what teachers should learn in particle physics professional development programmes. Over 100 stakeholders from 41 countries represented four stakeholder groups, namely physics education researchers, research scientists, government representatives, and high-school teachers. The study resulted in a ranked list of the 13 most important topics to be included in particle physics professional development programmes. The highest-ranked topics are cosmology, the Standard Model, and real-life applications of particle physics. All stakeholder groups agreed on the overall ranking of the topics. While the highest-ranked topics are again more theoretical, stakeholders also expect teachers to learn about experimental particle physics topics, which are ranked as medium importance topics. The three studies addressed two research aims of this doctoral project. The first research aim was to explore to what extent particle physics is featured in high-school physics curricula. The comparison of the outcomes of the curricular review and the expert concept map showed that curricula cover significantly less than what experts expect high-school students to learn about particle physics. For example, most curricula do not include concepts that could be classified as experimental particle physics. However, the strong connections between the different concepts show that experimental particle physics can be used as context for theoretical particle physics concepts, the Nature of Science, and other curricular topics. In doing so, particle physics can be introduced in classrooms even though it is not (yet) explicitly mentioned in the respective curriculum. The second research aim was to identify which aspects of content knowledge teachers are expected to learn about particle physics. The comparison of the Delphi study results to the outcomes of the curricular review and the expert concept map showed that stakeholders generally expect teachers to enhance their school knowledge as defined by the curricula. Furthermore, teachers are also expected to enhance their deeper school knowledge by learning how to connect concepts from their school knowledge to other concepts in particle physics and beyond. As such, professional development programmes that focus on enhancing teachers’ school knowledge and deeper school knowledge best support teachers in building relevant context in their instruction. Overall, this doctoral research project reviewed the current state of high-school particle physics education and provided guidelines for future enhancements of the particle physics content in high-school student and teacher education. The outcomes of the project support further implementations of particle physics in high-school education both as explicit content and as context for other curricular topics. Furthermore, the mixed-methods approach and the outcomes of this research project lead to several implications for professional development programmes and science education research, which are discussed in the final chapters of this dissertation.
DOCTORAL THESIS

Julia Woithe (2014 – 2020)
Designing, measuring and modelling the impact of the hands-on particle physics learning laboratory S'Cool LAB at CERN. Effects of student and laboratory characteristics on high-school students’ cognitive and affective outcomes
University of Kaiserslautern, Prof. J. Kuhn & Prof. A. Müller (University of Geneva) 

In the framework of this PhD project, S’Cool LAB, a new out-of-school hands-on learning laboratory for high-school students was developed at CERN, Geneva, Switzerland. Particle physics learning activities were designed to help students understand the physics and technologies of the largest particle physics laboratory in the world, while also fostering their interest in physics, self-beliefs and scientific curiosity. To maximise the educational potential of this unique opportunity at CERN, the development of learning activities was based on documented students’ conceptions and took recent research results about interest, curiosity, cognitive activation and cognitive load into account. To analyse the educational effectiveness of half-day hands-on sessions in S’Cool LAB, and to understand the relevance of student and laboratory characteristics, more than 500 students from 15 different countries took part in a quantitative study employing a single group, pre- and post-test research design. In particular, different types of novelty factors were assessed and used to model S’Cool LAB’s educational outcomes in both single-level and multi-level linear models. The results of the S’Cool LAB evaluation study confirmed high educational effectiveness of its hands-on sessions. Despite the very short intervention time of only 4.5 hours, participation in a half-day hands-on session in S’Cool LAB led to medium-sized effects on students’ physics interest (d=0.6) and their conceptual understanding (d=0.7), as well as a small effect on students’ physics self-beliefs (d=0.4). Here, girls benefited more from the hands-on sessions in S’Cool LAB with respect to physics interest (d=0.8) and self-beliefs (d=0.5) than did boys (d=0.5 & 0.3). Consequently, the initial gender gap with girls reporting slightly lower dispositional physics interest (d=0.3) and physics self-beliefs (d=0.4) was closed with respect to their situational interest and self-beliefs. In summary, S’Cool LAB outperforms other hands-on out-of-school learning labs by triggering very high situational interest and self-beliefs even for students whose dispositional interest and physics self-beliefs were already very high. Furthermore, S’Cool LAB demonstrates that out-of-school learning labs can foster students’ conceptual understanding significantly without compromising the positive impact on other variables, such as interest and self-beliefs. Students’ perception of support by the learning environment and by the educators in S’Cool LAB were crucial elements of their novelty experience and were associated with especially high affective outcomes. In particular, students highly appreciated the volunteering CERN scientists and perceived their support as very valuable. Furthermore, students’ perception of their cognitive preparedness and their cognitive load were vital with respect to the cognitive effects of S’Cool LAB.
DOCTORAL THESIS

Alexandra Jansky (2016 – 2019)
Development of a teaching concept on learning about radioactivity: physics phenomena based on randomness & the benefits of new devices
University of Vienna, Prof. M. Hopf

Randomness and probability play a big role in many areas of science. For example, probabilistic statements can only describe quantum mechanical phenomena, such as the decay of an unstable atomic nucleus. It is known that adolescents have problems understanding random processes from previous studies in mathematics education research and psychology. These problems of understanding could also have an impact on the understanding of random physical processes. The starting point of this work was the question of whether students' ideas on probability and randomness can also be found in the context of natural sciences. The following steps examined this question: In the framework of educational reconstruction, it was first clarified what scientists understand by probability theory and randomness and which topics in physics are relevant in terms of probability theory. Ten physicists were participating in a Delphi study. It shows, among other things, that randomness and probability in radioactivity are considered relevant. To survey the perspective of students, ideas about probability and randomness, as well as selected topics of physics are summarized. To investigate the influence of well-known students’ ideas on randomness on the understanding of particle physics processes, 33 interviews were carried out with 16 to 19-year-old German-speaking students and content-based analyzed. It turns out that students express students conceptions of probability and randomness known from literature even in scientific contexts, for example in the context of radio-activity. Based on these results, a teaching unit on probability theory in the context of radioactivity was developed. It was explored whether radioactivity can be introduced with the help of probability theory in such a way that students understand and accept the decay of an unstable atomic nucleus. The teaching unit was developed within the scope of Design-Based research in several cycles. In total, three iterations were carried out and the respective version of the teaching unit was evaluated with the help of an acceptance survey. A total of 14 one-on-one interviews were conducted with 17- to 18-year-old German-speaking students. All interviews were filmed, transcribed and evaluated with the methods of qualitative content analysis. The final teaching unit was considered by the participating students to be both adequate and plausible. In summary, students’ views on probability and randomness play a role in the scientific context. It has been discovered that students have problems understanding the decay of unstable atomic nuclei due to its random nature. The results also demonstrate the feasibility of an adequate and plausible introduction to radioactivity using probability theory.
DOCTORAL THESIS

Sarah Aretz (2014 – 2018)
Development and evaluation of a test instrument to investigate students’ prior knowledge and conceptions in cosmology
Potsdam University, Prof. A. Borowski

Cosmology deals with the development of the universe as a whole. Cosmological discoveries in theory and observation have therefore formed our modern scientific worldview. Transferring a modern worldview through science teaching is a frequent request in science literacy discussion. Nevertheless, there is still a need for research and education development. Cosmological topics often appear in the media and, at the same time, are further away from everyday life. Thus, scientifically incorrect conceptions can develop particularly easy and can lead to problems in class. The objective of this scientific work is to contribute to this area of research and to investigate the preconditions regarding present knowledge and conceptions in cosmology, which students bring into the classroom, and to compare these with those from other countries. This is done by a qualitative analysis of an open-ended questionnaire. On this basis a multiple-choice questionnaire is developed, applied and evaluated. The results show large gaps in knowledge in the area of cosmology and provide first indications of differences between countries. There also exist some partially widespread scientifically incorrect conceptions such as the association of the Big Bang with an explosion, the Big Bang being caused by a collision of particles or bigger objects, or the idea of the expansion of the universe meaning new discoveries and/ or knowledge. Furthermore, only every fifth student mentioned the correct age of the universe or the expansion of the universe as one of the three pillars of the Big Bang theory, whereas almost 40% could not name a single evidence. For the closed questionnaire, good evidence could be established for different aspects of validity. In addition, there exist first indications, that the questionnaire can measure knowledge gain and therefore can likely be used to investigate the effectiveness of learning units. Moreover, a corresponding model of the development of understanding of the expansion of the universe looked promising. This study provides research contributions to students' prior knowledge and preconceptions in cosmology and their large-scale assessment. This opens up the possibility of future research in the area of group comparisons in particular concerning objective country comparisons and investigations of the effectiveness of single learning units as well as comparisons of different learning units among each other.
DOCTORAL THESIS

Jeff Wiener (2013 – 2017)
Elementary particle physics in early physics education
University of Vienna, Prof. M. Hopf

Jeff investigated how best to introduce elementary particle physics in the classroom early on. First, a learning unit on the subatomic structure of matter was developed, which aims to introduce 12-year-olds to elementary particles and fundamental interactions. This unit was iteratively developed by means of a design-based research project and the technique of probing acceptance was used in one-on-one interview sessions to evaluate different adaptions of the unit. After several iterations, which were tested with a total of 20 grade-6 students, the final version of the learning unit proved to be plausible for all students. In addition, the development of the learning unit gave rise to a detailed description of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) as a prime example for the introduction of particle physics in the classroom and also led to the formulation of an alternative proposal for the graphical representation of anticolour charge. Next, the research focus was shifted towards the perspective of teachers to further explore the didactical feasibility of the learning unit. In doing so, a follow-up study was designed to again probe acceptance of the learning unit with a set of 17 grade-6 students. This time, however, the research was conducted by instructed physics teachers to also document their evaluation of the unit’s key ideas. Here, the findings of the follow-up study validated the results from the initial study, as all students evaluated the learning unit to be plausible and meaningful while demonstrating substantial understanding of the unit’s key ideas. Furthermore, the teachers’ feedback was very positive and showed the learning unit to be well-suited for use in the classroom. Last, the focus of the doctoral research project was shifted one more time to investigate the potential of the technique of probing acceptance as an effective tool for teachers’ professional development. Indeed, during the follow-up study, the teachers’ feedback hinted at influences of their pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) about elementary particle physics. Hence, an exploratory study was set up to examine the effect on teachers’ PCK when preparing and executing interview sessions based on the technique of probing acceptance. Here, promising findings could be documented as well, hinting especially at influences of teachers’ knowledge of learners and knowledge of instructional strategies. Thus, the results of the exploratory study strongly suggested that the transformation of the technique of probing acceptance into a tool for teacher training merits further research. Overall, Jeff's doctoral research project led to successful results and showed the topic of elementary particle physics to be a viable candidate for introducing modern physics in the classroom. Furthermore, thanks to the design-based research methodology, the respective findings have implications for both physics education and physics education research.
DOCTORAL THESIS


Completed Master research projects

Hashim Gillani Syed (2019)
Development of data serialization and transmission for a pixel detector platform
Applied University of Karlsruhe, Prof. M. Bantel

Hashim continued the hardware development for our educational pixel detector platform towards portable use cases. He evaluated and compared data serialisation protocols that can be used directly on energy-efficient embedded systems like memory-constrained microcontrollers. Pixel data transmission over WiFi and local SD card storage was successfully implemented on the ESP32 chipset and a proof-of-concept was developed for the xCore 200 processor series from XMOS.

Sarah Zöchling (2019)
Visualizations in particle physics – Learning aids or obstacles?
University of Vienna, Prof. M. Hopf

In teaching particle physics various visualizations are used to illustrate abstract concepts, but little is known on what learners discern from such representations, even though everyday conceptions may be barriers to disciplinary discernment. Sarah analyzed a video about the structure of matter and a representation of a measurement with a pixel detector and corresponding user interface. The results were used to give recommendations to improve the analyzed visualizations.

Irtaza Syed (2018)
Development of a web-based user interface for measuring and visualising radioactivity
Applied University of Karlsruhe, Prof. H. Körner

Irtaza continued the software development of an intuitive and easy-to-use graphical user interface foundation for an educational platform around the Timpeix3 pixel detector. A streamlined and flexible user interaction design based on Jupyter Lab (implemented in Python) allows students to achieve a better understanding of nuclear and particle physics by performing experiments on radioactivity with a pixel detector.

Mihaly Vadai (2017)
Pixel detector bias supply and control using embedded multicore processors
Queen Marry University of London, Prof. A. Alomany

Mihaly simulated, tested and verified the electronics of a low footprint and low power high voltage bias supply and current monitor for pixelated silicon sensors. The design is based on the LT3905 integrated circuit and an XMOS multi-core processor. It is intended to be used in a battery-powered, mobile pixel detector device geared for educational settings.

Ankatrin Kirchner (2017) 
Development and evaluation of a S'Cool LAB workshop on quadrupole ion traps 
University of Freiburg, Prof. M. Schumacher

Ankatrin designed the prototype of a 3D-printable quadrupole ion trap based on existing DIY traps from the University of Mainz. She developed student worksheets in an iterative (re-) design process taking into account students' conception of electric fields and electric circuits.

Lukas Mientus (2016)
Development and evaluation of a S'Cool LAB workshop on plasma wakefield acceleration 
University of Potsdam, Prof. A. Borowski

Lukas studied students' conceptions of plasma. Based on the results, he developed a teaching unit about plasma-wakefield-acceleration, a promising new acceleration technique which is currently being studied at CERN in the AWAKE collaboration.

Daniela Pfeiffer (2016)
Development and evaluation of a S'Cool LAB workshop on Positron-Emission-Tomography
University of Freiburg, Prof. M. Schumacher

Daniela studied students' interest in medical applications of particle physics. She developed student worksheets for the PET experiment in an iterative (re-) design process taking into account students' conception of radiation, especially in the medical context.

Magnus Reifenrath & Christopher Weller (2016)
Development and evaluation of a S'Cool LAB workshop on superconductivity
University of Siegen, Prof. O. Schwarz

Magnus and Christopher developed a sequence of experimental tasks about superconductivity. In the framework of their theses, they built a magnetic track and designed different sensors to measure the conductivity of conductors, semiconductors and superconductors at different temperatures.

Lea Prüfer (2015)
Development and evaluation of a S'Cool LAB workshop on muon detectors
University of Munich, Prof. S. Paul

Lea studied students' conceptions of cosmic particles. Based on the results, she developed an experimental workshop about muons using a set of scintillation detectors.


Former team members

Fabian Bernstein
Dr. Alexandra Jansky
Oliver Keller
Dr. Sarah Aretz
Alex Brown
Konrad Jende
Stephanie Münstermann
Martin Hawner