On 18th June 2010, a group of thirty five Polish students and their teachers stormed enthusiastically into the START area of CCFE. Visiting JET, Europe’s biggest fusion experiment, for the first time, they were literally bursting with questions and eager to see and learn as much as possible. After a warm welcome by Michael Watkins, the Head of the Programme Department and of International Relations at EFDA-JET, Chris Warrick, Head of CCFE Communications, gave a short introduction. The visitors were then shown around the MAST and JET facilities and the day was rounded offwith a question and answer session with chief engineer Tom Todd. The visit was perfectly timed as JET was not under operation and the guests were able to enter the Torus Hall to see the world’s largest tokamak at very close quarters. They were especially impressed by the remote handling facilities and the real scale model of the tokamak itself.

The group had come to Oxford on a one-week training course as part of a project for science teachers and students called ‘Fusion at school and in society’ which has been run by the Polish Euratom Association IPPLM for a total of three years now. It is designed to introduce fusion to young people aged 13 to 19 in secondary and high schools throughout Poland. Last year, IPPLM organised a similar visit to JET for teachers but this year’s trip was aimed specifically at the most talented students. These were selected during the course of a two-stage competition. Firstly, teachers selected their best students by means of competitions within their schools and cities. Then, the local champions attended a training meeting and completed a central test on fusion and nuclear physics in April 2010. Only these national winners qualified for the educational trip during which they were accompanied by their teachers. Alongside visiting JET, the group also stopped by the Physics Department of Oxford University, where they attended a lecturegiven by Prof Nick Jelley on the subject of the energy crisis and had a tour of the undergraduate laboratories. The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory invited the pupils and teachers to visit the Space Physics Division and showed them the Solar, Terrestrial, Astronomy, and Cosmic Rays Physics labs along with the projects being carried out there.

In addition to the strictly professional activities, the group also found time for a sightseeing tour around the picturesque old quarter of Oxford, which gave them the opportunity to observe university students in full swing of their annual exams and listen to the Oxford Bach Choir concert at the Sheldonian Theatre. Exhausted but happy, the party completed their science adventure with a visit to the Greenwich Royal Observatory in London.

These visits proved to have an extremely motivating effect, on both teachers and pupils. The young people mostly appreciated the opportunity to talk to scientists and students in each of the renowned places. These informal encounters are a source of inspiration to the teachers and shows them how to appeal to young people whose interests are often far from pure academic knowledge, and to encourage them to investigate the sciences and how to induce curiosity. They are more credible to their students if they are able to give examples involving real scientists. All of the teachers emphasised the importance of meeting colleagues from other parts of the country, exchanging ideas or even making friends. Many of them have stayed in contact after returning home and have thus a form of support group for science teachers. As for the students, this statement gets to the heart of it: ‘I always perceived physics at school as a very though, extremely complicated and maybe a little boring subject but now, to my surprise, I see that physics can be a hobby that gives a lot of satisfaction’. Was it not worth the effort?

Helena Howianec,