A school programme introduced by IPPLM Warsaw brings fun into the physics classroom. Helena  Howaniec, a former physics teacher, and now the associate’s public information officer, has been the guiding force behind establishing this project. With great enthusiasm she arranged for teachers and students to visit Jet, creating many enthusiastic ambassadors for fusion. Here she describes how these events have boosted the motivation of all participants.

Teachers do their best to prepare physics experiments that grab attention, induce curiosity and excitement as well as giving students the opportunity to feel like a scientist. Quite often, however, schools are faced with limited resources and visiting a research laboratory can be a great alternative. An even better solution is one that forges continuous cooperation between schools and scientific institutes, since the excitement of a single event soon wears off.

Teachers are multipliers

Therefore, in 2007, the Polish Association IPPLM established a programme for the benefit of science teachers at middle and high schools. The project provides tutorials and support, distributes fusion materials from both EFDA and IPPLM, holds annual meetings and organises visits to national or European fusion research facilities. The impact on fusion communication is tremendous: During their professional life, a single teacher reaches out to several thousand students. For the first meeting held in June 2008, in excess of forty teachers visited IPPLM, toured the institute and attended lectures. After talking to researchers, teachers felt sufficiently at ease to proceed with more frequent contact. As a result, a stream of invitations came from schools, asking scientists to give talks. At the same time, several school groups visited the institute. Teachers also emphasised the importance of meeting colleagues to exchange ideas, discuss the problems encountered in school and share possible solutions.

I feel like a star now, everybody asks me about my impressions of Oxford and the research units I saw. When I talk about JET and show pictures, the classroom falls completely silent. Everybody listens and nobody rushes for a break at the end of the lesson as is usually the case.


A visit to JET

Soon the idea was born to visit a fusion machine. Since there are no fusion machines in Poland as yet, the programme needed to approach research laboratories in other European countries. After a great deal of preparation, numerous email exchanges, and lots of anxiety and worry, 45 teachers arrived in Oxford in March 2009. Three days were spent at JET, Oxford University and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories. Chris Warrick, Head of Public Affairs at CCFE, warmly welcomed the group to a number of lectures and conducted a tour of the various JET facilities.

At school I always perceived physics as very thorough, extremely complicated and maybe a little boring. But now, to my surprise, I see that physics can be a hobby that gives a lot of satisfaction.


Boosted confidence

The visit was a milestone: Teachers felt proud to be part of the programme. Their confidence increased along with their credibility to students, as they were able to give “real” scientific examples. They also realised that the students themselves would benefit considerably from such an adventure. Consequently, a national competition was established to find the most talented pupils. Twelve winners, accompanied by their teachers, went to Oxford in June 2010. The visit was reminiscent of the first, but the
young participants made it very special: Watching ‘science in action’ literally mesmerised them and they were able to see the kind of opportunities that are open to them. Even during the visit, some students contemplated studying physics and later applied to the Physics Department of Oxford University. The inspiration had come at the right time, as the teenagers had to start
thinking about their future professions. Only careful attention – by teachers, friends or family – can identify and foster a passion for science that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Wendelstein 7-X is next

Following the success of the ‘Oxford adventures’, IPPLM’s Director and Head of Research Unit, Andrzej Gałkowski maintained his enthusiastic support for the programme. In cooperation with Beate Kemnitz, Public Relations Officer at IPP in Greifswald, Germany, another competition was started this year. In June 2011, the winners will visit the Wendelstein 7-X stellarator to catch a final glimpse into the vessel before it is fully assembled.

Helena Howaniec

Contact: helena howaniec, helena.howaniec AT ipplm DOT pl
Detailed accounts of the two visits to JET can be found in Fusion News, May
2009 and September 2010.

So far, I have only seen pictures of research labs in science books, not quite believing that they really exist. Until now, I had not the slightest idea of how researchers do science.