The Fellowship Begins!

It's always nice to start the new academic year off with some good news, so here goes: I'm now Public Engagement Fellow at the School of Physics and Astronomy, Queen Mary University of London. After three years of working on the CERN@school programme, and just under two years of officially joining the GridPP Collaboration, we've been able to mash the roles together into something resembling a proper academic post supported by the wonderful folks at STFC.

Where it all began: the CERN@school Mk1 detector kit, which features the Timepix hybrid silicon pixel detector, high-voltage cable, USB cable, and laptop. These kits were part of the original SEPnet pilot scheme, which has since grown into the nationwide CERN@school programme.

Since finishing my PhD, I've wanted to do something that combines doing research with communicating its results. In fact, I first realised this during the 2009 FameLab competition; one of the questions we were always being asked was, "do you want to be a scientist or a science communicator?" I didn't want to choose, so when Becky Parker (now Professor Becky Parker) phoned me during my post-doc at Imperial about working on student-led research with CERN-developed technology, I knew there was no way I could turn it down.

When I started, we had eight of the CERN@school detector kits shown above and a student-designed satellite experiment waiting to launch. Three years on and here we are with a national programme involving fifty-odd schools and outreach groups across the country. We have data from a nationwide network of detectors in schools, in space, and in the LHC shared via the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid. It's taken a lot of time and a lot of work - there's a brief history in our latest publication here - but after various grant award successes and extensions, a number of short-term contracts, and (most importantly) fantastic support from an ever-expanding team, CERN@school is on the map as a flagship research and engagement programme for both STFC and the newly-formed Institute for Research in Schools.

And yet there is still a huge amount to do. For example, in addition to supporting students with their research activities, we're expanding the educational and demonstrative aspects of the programme for outreach specialists in science centres. New projects involving Timepix detectors on board the International Space Station and in the MoEDAL experiment at CERN need to be integrated into the research activities on offer to schools. The list goes on.

Let's get started.