New Masterclass for pupils on particle therapy


In April, a pilot Masterclass on particle therapy took place at GSI and FAIR, as well as at the Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (DKFZ) in Heidelberg and the European research center CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. School children with an age distribution spanning from 12 to 17 years were invited to immerse in the world of scientists for a day. At the end of the event they joined a common video conference to share their experiences and discuss their results from a hands-on session as international scientific collaborations do.

This new masterclass was proposed towards enriching the program of the well-established International Physics Masterclasses (IMC), an educational outreach activity and flagship project of the International Particle Physics Outreach Group (IPPOG). The program currently reaches out to approx. 15,000 school children around the world with about 225 institutes from 55 participating countries in 2018. The aim of the pilot Masterclass session was to explore the students’ interest in the subject of particle therapy, as well as to get feedback from participants before presenting the new package to the IMC steering group during the spring IPPOG meeting in May at FAIR and GSI. More specifically, the theme of this new masterclass was chosen with the aim to highlight benefits for society from fundamental research, focusing on medical applications and related questions. The Particle Therapy Masterclass allows participants to get a hands-on experience of the actual techniques employed by researchers for treatment of cancer tumors using x-rays, protons or carbon ions, in a realistic way. The professional research software toolkit matRad developed by the DKFZ has been used in this Masterclass.

The alpha testing phase of the program was done at GSI in February 2019 and comments from the students were implemented in the program’s next version. Subsequently, following the pattern of any typical masterclass day, the involved institutes organized the local details of the event with schools of their area and also worked out a plan for the presentation of results and discussion during the common video conference at the end of the hands-on session. Each institute adapted the exact program of the masterclasses to the local needs, e.g. language or program details, in order to make it as attractive as possible to the participants. Comments from the participants, as well as from observing PhD students and scientists, were recorded and will be taken into consideration as the project moves to its next phase.

During the video-conference discussion of results, the enthusiasm and interest of the students were obvious, as well as their understanding of the presented topics. The local organizers who contributed in preparing and performing the event in all three institutes expressed their satisfaction but also their motivation and commitment to continue. The team work among colleagues of all three institutes contributes in preparing the next generation of scientists, but also in strengthening bonds among the involved institutes developing this project.

The successful pilot session has set the basis, and already several other institutes have declared interest to join. In addition to its impact in the framework of IMC, it has a great potential that can be explored and applied to enhance awareness of public, trigger interest and engage the next generation of scientists, promote education and training in related fields, and make clear the benefits of science and international collaborative spirit for society.

It is not a coincidence that the involved institutes in this pilot project are leading institutes for fundamental research but also renowned for important contributions in the field of medical applications. At GSI, where carbon ion therapy for cancer was pioneered in the 1990s, participants had the chance to visit the medical treatment facility where approx. 450 patients were treated for the first time. At Heidelberg, a visit of the HIT ion therapy center, built following the research results of GSI, had a strong impact particularly since it included a group photo next to the impressive gantry. At CERN, participants were excited about the visit to the Antiproton Decelerator and learning about antimatter and its use in PET scanners. They were also informed that CERN was the home of the open source design study of particle therapy facilities (PIMMS), which became the basis for the construction of two therapy centers in Europe, CNAO in Italy and MedAustron in Austria. It was only natural then to hear their question “What next?”.

Overall, the event was very successful and highly appreciated by the students, their teachers and families. (yf/cp)

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