Ben Still

Awesome! Thanks to everyone who voted for me - will put the prize money to good use!

Favourite Thing: My favourite thing is learning something new and sharing it with people. This doesn’t just mean my research and science, although this is the most exciting for me. It could be something I read on a website, an article in a magazine or simply a new way of looking at something that I had taken for granted. Oh, and the masses of travelling isn’t bad either!



Townsend C of E School, St. Albans 1994-2001 / University of Leicester, Physics with Space Science and Technology 2001-2005 / The University of Sheffield, PhD Experimental Particle Physics, 2005-2009


Some GCSE’s and A-Levels. Masters in Physics with Space Science and Technology and a PhD in Particle Physics

Work History:

Had a number of part time jobs to pay my way whilst a full time student; from working in call centres to teaching University laboratory.

Current Job:

Scientific Researcher (Research Associate) at Queen Mary, University of London

My STFC Facility:

ND280 near detector of the T2K experiment

Me and my work

Trying to understand the birth of the visible Universe, using the tiniest things in Nature and the biggest experiments on Earth.

It is a bit of a cheesy fact but it is true: we are all star children. The carbon, oxygen and other chemical elements from which are bodies are made were cooked up inside the heart of stars over billions of years. But where did stars get their fuel from? The answer lies in the first few seconds of the Universe, just after it’s Big Bang birth. The secret is locked away in natures smallest building blocks – the particles.I study the way particles interact with each other and themselves. I am looking for very very very rare types of interaction, about 1 in 10,000,000,000, which gave birth to the star fuel. This involves using powerful particle accelerators, atom smashers, and massive detectors.myimage3This is a picture of one of the massive particle detectors used in the experiment I am working on. It contains over 33 Olympic sized swimming pools worth of water and is a kilometre underneath a mountain in western Japan. If you looks closely you can see two men in a rubber boat checking the electronics, just to give you and idea of how big the thing is.The experiment I work on, with over 500 other scientists and engineers, is based in Japan. The particles we use are called neutrinos, if you haven’t heard of them I am not surprised. Trillions of neutrinos pass through your body every second, on their journey through the cosmos, but you would never notice them. The are anti-social particles, very rarely interacting. This means that we can fire a beam of neutrinos a whole 295km from one side of Japan to the other right through the Earth. From the few interactions we get in our detectors we try to piece together an understanding of how the Universe was born.If you have heard of neutrinos it may have been from the claims suggested by CERN that they might be able to travel faster than the speed of light. The experiment I work on, in Japan, is very similar to the OPERA experiment which suggested that this might happen and we will also be looking into this too. If neutrinos do travel faster than light then we would have to re-write all of our textbooks as it changes our surrent understanding of the Universe on all scales.myimage2Above is a particle physicists view of the history of the Universe – take a look at the time scale along the bottom; particle physicists like me are interested in the very first few seconds after the Big Bang.Here is a diagram of the building blocks of nature, the forces they feel and the particles that transmit the force.myimage4


More on my experiment

The experiment I work on is split over a massive diastance; from the very East Pacific Ocean coast of Japan, just north of Tokyo, to the Mountainous Japanese Alps 295km to the West.myimage10

It all starts with a particle beam, infact we use one type of particle beam to produce a second beam of particles that we need for the experiment. Protons, just the same as in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), are acellerated in a machine called a synchrotron. Instead of smashing these protons into each other we crash them into graphite, the same stuff as in the centre of a pencil. This gives birth to new particles which in their death produce a beam of neutrinos – the particles we want. See if you can spot the stage at which the neutrinos are created in the animation below.myimage5

Just after we create these neutrinos they pass through a “near detector”, called ND280, which takes a snaphot of just a few of the trillions of neutrinos created. This snapshot lets us understand how many of each type of neutrino was in the beam and what energy they each had. myimage8

The neutrinos then travel 295km, straight through the Earth, to another “far detector” which is called Super-Kamiokande.myimage3

Super-K, for short, also takes a snapshot of the beam of neutrinos and tels us how many of the different types of neutrino we see and at what energy. This Super-K snapshot is compared with the ND280 snapshot and from this we can determine exciting physics as I described in “Me and my work”.

My Typical Day

Playing around with data from massive particle detectors in Japan or playing with LEGO to teach particle physics.

This is what I do with most of my time although it is difficult to say what a typical day is exactly.I am responsible for processing a lots and lots of data from our particle detectors on a huge worldwide network of computers called the GRID. I also develop computer programs to recognise patterns within the detectors, so that we know what particles we are taking photographs of.Some days I may be in a sterile clean room assembling and testing electronics; such as the ultra-sensitive light sensors we use to detect a single particle of light (photon) at a time. Other days I could be looking after one of the massive particle detectors, making sure that everything is running smoothly.I also have lots of meetings and conferences to attend and these can be all over the world or just a video conference at any time of the day or night. Travelling is a big part of my job as well, mainly to to Japan but I also find time (and reasons) to get to go to other interesting places in the world. Ocassionally I get to escape my desk and build LEGO Universes, teaching people of all ages about the birth of the Universe and the particles and forces that make it.

What I'd do with the money

Put it towards producing some podcasts and a documentary for everyone to enjoy.

I have been writing a blog for a while now, The Neutrino Blog, and I would love to make the best of these posts into video podcasts for all to download and learn about neutrino and particle physics. I am a visual learner and much prefer producing video and animations than written stuff.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Intrigued and easy going.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Depends on the mood I’m in – everything and anything at different times.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Difficult choice. I would have to say Climbing Mount Fuji, in Japan. I have climbed it twice now, both times overnight to see the sunrise.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

To continue enjoying life and my job. To see the whole world. To win the lottery. In that order.

What did you want to be after you left school?

For a long time I wanted to be an Astronaut but I guess at the end of the day I just wanted to continue doing what I enjoyed, which happened to be science (and travelling).

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Lots of times :-s Quite a few detentions for not handing in homework and a couple for other reasons…

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Finish my PhD! Four years of enjoyable but tough work. But now I can call myself Dr!!!

Tell us a joke.

Two atoms bump into each other. One says ‘I think I lost an electron!’ The other asks, ‘Are you sure?’, to which the first replies, ‘I’m positive.’

Other stuff

Work photos:


Me standing in front of the actual neutrino beam of our experiment, proving how ghostly and uninteracting neutrinos are.


The magnets used in accelerating and bending the protons.


The ND280 “near detector” – taking snapshots of the neutrino beam.


The brilliant Super-Kamiokade “far detector”

The best time to visit:

The facility I work at is based in Japan and so visits are complicated to arrange. The best time to visit Japan is Spring or Autumn generally.