Students from 17 African countries came together for the rare opportunity to learn about particle physics this month.
Some African students have earned advanced science degrees but are looking for the specialized training in particle physics and its associated applications not usually offered on their own continent.
The first African School of Fundamental Physics and its Applications in Stellenbosch, South Africa, provided that training and financially supported some African students.
Sixty-five students from around the globe, including more than 50 from African countries, attended the three-week school for an overview of fundamental subatomic physics and its applications. They left with more information than they could process, new friends and connections, and ideas on how to pursue a particle-physics career.
"We really wanted to empower students," said Fermilab scientist and school organizer Christine Darve. "We wanted them to have confidence in their skills and direction for their careers, but we also wanted them to become knowledge ambassadors – to take what they've learned back to their home countries."
Between Aug. 1 and 21, students attended lectures from experts in the particle physics field and participated in small group discussions. They also learned about the benefits of particle physics to society from experts such as Jim Gates, a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. On their last day, students attended a career workshop where they learned which particle physics institutions offer fellowships and what job opportunities exist.
"I think that most important were the opportunities to be a part of this and to receive guidance about how to grow academically and careerwise," said Ekua Mensimah, a student from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. "It was also reassuring to know that these opportunities don't end on Aug. 21."
While the students were learning about particle physics, the school organizers were learning more about the students' countries.
"We want to document where these students were from and what science was offered in their home countries in order to better support this kind of education," Darve said.
School organizers are still collecting feedback from the students, which they plan to use to inform the curriculum for the next school, which will take place in two years. The organizers will decide the next school's location this fall.