David Freeborn

#TeamDavid: Going For the Win!

Favourite Thing: I love it when I get an idea and it just *works*. That’s very, very rare; most ideas fail most of the time. But when things just click, and everything falls into place, it’s the best feeling in the world.



Rickmansworth School: GCSEs and 5 A Levels. Oxford University: physics. Now doing a PhD at University College London


Master’s in Physics at Oxford; studying for a PhD now!

Work History:

I worked at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN for a year

Current Job:

PhD student


University College London

Me and my work

I smash atoms into each other to find out what they’re made from.

Everything is made of tiny objects called atoms, and these atoms are made from even smaller things, like protons and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are made from even smaller stuff called quarks.
We have a pretty good idea of how an atom works, but our understanding of quarks is still very fuzzy. To see a normal object, we fire light at it, and see the light bounce off, but quarks are far too small for this. The best way to see how a quark works is to fire other quarks.

But we can’t get hold of individual quarks: they’re trapped inside protons. So we fire protons at each other and try to see which particles bounce out.

Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we discover a new type of particle that’s completely unexpected.

It sounds crazy, but that’s the only way to understand what the stuff everything in the world is made from.

This all takes place at a detector in Switzerland called the “Large Hadron Collider” LHC, basically a 17 mile long tunnel with four huge detectors. The LHC uses 9000 supercooled magnets to control the particles- it’s the coldest place in the Universe. But each collision generates enough energy to beĀ 100,000 times hotter than the sun.

To analyse all the data that comes out, we need the most advanced computer system in the world.

My Typical Day

Every day is different. I get into work early, analyse last night’s results, and then despair when they’re wrong. I spend most of the day working at a computer.

What I'd do with the money

Create some mini particle detectors for schools (spark chambers), so they can run their own experiments

You can make simple particle detectors called spark chambers easily- but even these simple detectors are good enough to pick up high energy cosmic rays- composed of tiny particles much smaller than atoms called pions and muons.

It would be great if schools could get more involved in real cutting-edge science research. Supplying some neat detectors like these would be a really great start.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Curious, excitable, friendly

Who is your favourite singer or band?

It’s all about Harry Styles from One Direction. Obviously.

What's your favourite food?

Savoury: pizza. Sweet: anything with chocolate in it.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I sang in an Opera a couple of months ago: that was pretty cool

What did you want to be after you left school?

I dreamed of being a scientist

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Yes. I destroyed a lot of school equipment in chemistry labs, and almost injured my lab partner. Often.

What was your favourite subject at school?


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

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I read lots and lots of science books as a kid

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A politician: lobbying to give more money to scientists

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

(1) I’d wish to rewrite the laws of the Universe, (2) I’d wish to end poverty globally and at home, (3) I’d wish to stop global warming

Tell us a joke.

Atom 1: “I’ve lost an electron!” … Atom 2: “Are you sure?” … Atom 1: “Yes, I’m positive!”

Other stuff

Work photos:

This is one of the main particle detectors at the LHC:



This is how huge the tunnel is: