From Santacruz to Geneva: Mumbai school is first Asian team to win CERN competition
Ameya Kunder, a Class 12 student at RN Podar School, has been passionate about physics all through school. When he was in Class 9, Kunder learnt of the Geneva-based European Organisation for Nuclear Research, also known as CERN — the world’s largest particle physics laboratory known for its discovery of the elusive Higgs Boson or God particle.
Three years later, Kunder was among a team of nine student-researchers from the Santacruz school to visit CERN.
The team won at the ‘Beamline for Schools’ competition, 2018, which CERN has been conducting since 2014. RN Podar, along with the International School of Manila, Philippines, became the first Asian teams, to win the competition since its inception.
The ‘Beamline for Schools’ initiative caters to high school students from across the globe.
This year, 1,500 students from 42 countries participated.
Eight others were part of the RN Podar team, called ‘Cryptic Ontics’ — Kiranbaskar Velmurugan, Pulkit Malhotra, Aditya Dwarkesh, Satchit Chatterji, Jinal Shah, Anushree Ganesh, Aayush Desai and Roshni Sahoo.
CERN will work with the winning teams to get their findings published in an international peer-reviewed journal.
Sarah Aretz, who works at CERN and is a project leader at Beamline for Schools, said Cryptic Ontics’ project had “great potential”.
“It was feasible, and thus got picked. The team was extremely good at the subject and had great ideas,” she said.
The Cryptic Ontics team tried to study the interactions between various muons — or elementary subatomic particles— and magnetic fields that may lead them to some conclusions about how such cosmic muons behave in the earth’s magnetic field. For the competition, each team sent a written proposal to address a physics question, using a particle beam at CERN, and a video explaining their methodology. A panel of scientists and senior researchers at CERN shortlisted 30 teams, of which two teams spent two weeks at CERN in October, where experts mentored them to perform an experiment on the beamline accelerator.
“Visiting CERN and getting an opportunity to perform hands-on research was the most enriching experience,” said Kunder, who aspires to be a physicist. “Over the two weeks, we interacted with top physicists from across the world and got deeper insights into the realm of science. We were all treated like independent researchers, which also got us acquainted with the lives of a researcher working in the field of physics.”
While Avnita Bir, principal of the school, said getting to visit the laboratory in Geneva has been extremely rewarding for the students, Pulkit Malhotra, another budding physicist from the winning group said, “Coming up with an experiment, and struggling to make it a success was a tough task. By putting us in their shoes, it helped us understand what the life of a scientist is like.”
Shyam Wuppuluri, the research associate at the school who guided students for the competition, said, “Meeting Fabiola Gionatti (CERN’s director) was a dream come true for all the budding physicists. After this experience, the moment is not far when we see one of the students making a huge name in science and bringing reforms in the field,” he said.
The organisation is also trying to get more Indian students to participate. “Through a network of local partners, we are trying to reach out to students from underprivileged schools in the country, as we know there is immense talent there” said Markus Joos, technical coordinator, CERN.