Bristol leads the way in international science investigation

Bristol is spearheading a nationwide schools project to shed light on the origin of millions of cosmic rays that crash into the Earth’s atmosphere from outer space.

Red Maids’ School in Westbury-on-Trym is the first school in the South West to link up with the international HiSPARC science initiative, which is being rolled out across the UK by the University of Bristol.

Physics students will build two particle detectors for installation onto the roof of their Sixth Form building to help capture intricate data about the strength and direction of high-energy particles that invisibly shower down upon us every second.
Their results will be fed into a central database and accessed by fellow researchers around the globe.
The HiSPARC collaboration, which originated in the Netherlands, aims to find out more about these mysterious high energy particles and where they actually come from.

Zino Dif, Head of Physics at Red Maids’, said: “Very little is understood about these cosmic rays. They could hold information that leads to exciting new discoveries about our universe and human life itself just as research into the Higgs boson led to our understanding of the origin of mass.”

The cosmic ray detectors sit on the roofs of buildings and measure the rate and the energy of the rays, the variations according to the time of day and the angles at which they fall, while also looking for the sources of the rays.

The University of Bristol is already monitoring the high energy particles and has received interest from schools across the country which are keen to get its pupils involved in real, hands-on experimental science.

Dr Jaap Velthuis, Senior Lecturer in the School of Physics, said: “HiSPARC is really popular in Europe, with some countries having a waiting list of schools wanting to take part. This is the first time that a university in the UK has overseen such a programme and it’s been great to see such interest from schools, not just in the South West but also in the Midlands and Hereford. We’re especially honoured to have Professor Bob van Eijk, who heads up HiSPARC, coming over from Amsterdam especially to help us launch the programme at Red Maids’.”

There are also HiSPARC systems operating in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Vietnam and Austria.
The other schools in the West Country which have signed up to the project are:

  • Bristol Grammar School
  • Royal High School (Bath)
  • Beechen Cliff School (Bath)
  • Sheldon School (Chippenham)
  • New College (Swindon)


Media opportunity:
The HiSPARC experiment at Red Maids’ will officially be launched on Monday 22 October at 1.30pm by Mrs Isabel Tobias, Headmistress of The Red Maids’ School, and Prof Bob van Eijk, the leader of the international project, who is coming over from Amsterdam.
After an initial briefing and introduction, the media will be able to see pupils working on the cosmic ray detector and showing how the data is collected. There will be an opportunity for interviews and photographs from 2pm.

For further information please contact Philippa Walker at the University of Bristol on 0117 9287777 or, or Penny Godfrey at Red Maids on 0117 962 2641 or “”

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