Over the past few years there have been many opportunities for average citizens to participate in scientific research, whether by classifying galaxies or hunting for supernovae, or watching the oceans and the grasslands for wildlife. However until recently there have been few opportunities to work with the particle physics community.

However a new project has just started through the zooniverse website, in which users can help the MoEDaL (Monopole and Exotics Detector at LHC) team to hunt for rare particles that have been discussed by theorists for decades but which have never been observed in the lab.

The main goal of this search is to find magnetic monopoles.  Most people who took high school physics learned about electric charges and forces. A particle can carry a positive charge, or a negative charge, and as we all remember like charges repel each other while opposites attract. Even if you have a complicated distribution of electric charges, it can still be studied as a great many individual point charges each with a positive or negative charge.

Then we consider magnetic forces. You have a north and south pole of a magnet, and as with electric charges they can attract or repel other magnetic poles. Except there is one critical difference - the two poles of a magnetic can never be separated. If you have a bar magnet, and cut it in half, you will find each of the halves carries both a north and south pole. Keep cutting, and you always have smaller and smaller magnets each of which has two poles. Even if you were able to cut down to a single proton inside the atomic nucleus, it still has both magnetic poles.

Which then raises the question, can there ever be an object (such as an exotic particle) which has a single pole? Could you ever find a particle that only has a north pole magnetic field, and another that only has a south pole magnetic field? We just don't know.

We do know from the work of Paul Dirac that if even one exists anywhere in the Universe, all electric charges must be multiples of the same fundamental electric charge. (Unfortunately the proof of that claim is more mathematical than I want to include in this simple overview). And we do know that every particle ever observed has an electric charge that obeys this rule, so just maybe magnetic monopoles do exist, but are simply too rare for scientists to have ever seen before.

So why not join in, and perhaps make history as the person who discovered an exotic new particle species!