The HITRIplus project coordinator, Sandro Rossi of CNAO, participated in a public event in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Saturday 13 May 2023 that demonstrated the Particle Therapy Master Class project (PTMC) to teachers and representatives of IPPOG, the International Particle Physics Outreach Group. This event was associated with the IPPOG collaboration meeting in Sofia (9-13 May 2023) taking advantage of the presence of IPPOG members and parallel activities for the public in the Sofia Tech Park where it was hosted. Thus this setting provided a great opportunity to present the HITRIplus project and the educational opportunities that it provides.
The PTMC project, developed and coordinated by Yiota Foka of GSI member of SEEIIST and deputy to the HITRIplus coordinator of Work Package 2 dedicated to the dissemination, is integrated with the well-known International Master Classes, the flagship project of IPPOG, which offers the opportunity to school-children “to become scientists for a day”, at the early stages of their studies. For this exemplary PTMC event, tailored to training teachers, about 30 teachers could be accepted, in person, who are expected to act as a channel to the next generation of scientists.
The agenda of the PTMC event in Sofia was proposed and tailored to the needs of the participating teachers by Yiota Foka and it was also driven by and adapted to the HITRIplus dissemination and educational aims. The generous support of the local organisers made possible the participation of (1) Joao Seco of DKFZ who presented the biophysics aspects of ion therapy (2) Sandro Rossi of CNAO who presented an actual heavy ion therapy centre and the HITRIplus project highlighting educational activities and opportunities in the field of heavy ion therapy (3), Jennifer Hardt of DKFZ who introduced the matRad Treatment Planning (TP) toolkit developed by DKFZ the German Cancer Research Centre. Yiota Foka gave an introduction “From Particle Physics to Particle Therapy” presenting the PTMC concept and including practical information and guidelines for potentially interested future local organisers, while Jennifer Hardt, after these lectures, run a hands-on session using the matRad treatment planning toolkit.
The hands-on session was very efficiently supported by the local team, led by Borislav Pavlov from Sofia University, which performs very successfully the PTMC sessions every year in Sofia since the beginning of the PTMC project. Worthwhile mentioning, that the 10 February 2023 PTMC session in Sofia celebrating the international day of Women and Girls in Science was organized, in-person, in the Sofia Tech Park (by Borislav Pavlov, Leandar Litov, Peicho Petkov, Elton Shumka) and attracted 39 high-school students, among them 29 girls.
In general, the local organisers, Roumyana Mileva Hadjiiska and Vasil Plamenov Karaivanov, with the support of the Sofia Tech Park management, meticulously prepared every practical detail thus guaranteeing a smooth enjoyable event for all participants. Among others, the HITRIplus banner, set up in the room where the PTMC was performed, as well as the HITRIplus leaflets, provided information on the project and its multiple channels where participants could find further educational material on heavy ion therapy.
The participating teachers represent an important seed and community that will spread the PTMC further. Indeed, this exemplary PTMC session has the potential to reach many more high-school students through the trained teachers making known the benefits of heavy ion beam therapy not only to them but to their families and the broader environment as well. In addition, among the aims of the PTMC is to make aware young students of opportunities for interesting future career paths in upcoming fields where often there is a lack of specialized personnel.
Such full-day PTMC events are complemented by the in-depth specialized full-week courses that the HITRIplus project provides. Inspired by the PTMC format, the Heavy Ion Therapy Masterclass school of HITRIplus was organized in May 2021 attracting 1050 participants, spanning from university students to professionals, while the next one, focusing on clinical aspects of heavy-ion therapy is going to take place online between 3-7 July 2023. All HITRIplus schools include special “train-the-trainer” sessions, similar to the exemplary PTMC session organised in Sofia, to train the school participants to become tutors of PTMC sessions back at their institutes and countries.
Numerous HITRIplus collaborators participate in such PTMC events (reaching every year about 1500 high-school students in 37 institutes in 20 countries) as local organisers, and tutors, providing virtual visits of their institutes or participating in the common video conference which is moderated by GSI with the continuous support of CNAO, the HITRIplus coordinator.