by Kevin McDermott. Published: 26 August 2012

This summer, one of my dreams came true. For the last seven years, I wanted to work for CERN, home to the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the LHC. After first reading about antimatter in Dan Brown’s novel, Angels and Demons, seven years ago, I soon fell in love with particle physics and made it goal of mine to someday work for CERN. Through the University of Michigan CERN REU program, I spent nine weeks this summer living and researching on site at CERN.

The work I performed revolved around building a suitable piece of software to monitor over time the quality of data selected to be saved after being passed by triggers from the ALICE detector. Briefly, a trigger selects from the millions of collisions per second which of these events are interesting and therefore should be saved for future analysis. Without triggers, many useless events would be saved, wasting time and hard disk space. It is therefore necessary to monitor the selection process, as this can change with the varying conditions present in the LHC and the different trigger configurations. With this in mind, I built a piece of software that works automatically at the end of each data taking period to trend the conditions of the selection viewable either locally or on the web. From this project, I learned a great deal in C++, ROOT, and LaTeX. The results of my work were presented in the ALICE Quality Assurance group meeting, and my software has been committed to the ALICE repository.


Kevin in front of the LHC dipole magnet outside Restaurant 1 with Mont Blanc in the background


"From this project, I learned a great deal in C++, ROOT, and LaTeX. The results of my work were presented in the ALICE Quality Assurance group meeting, and my software has been committed to the ALICE repository. "

My experience at CERN was once in a lifetime. While here, I was able to attend lectures that were presented by world-renowned physicists in addition to my work. Outside work, I was fortunate enough to not only be at CERN for the announcement of what appears to be the Higgs boson, I was actually in the auditorium for the announcement, a moment thousands of physicists around the globe patiently waited for over the last four decades. I also had plenty of chances to travel; my favorite trips include hiking in Zermatt, Switzerland around the Matterhorn and also going to the Festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, Spain. Of course, I was also able to enjoy the wonderful bread, cheese, and wine culture in Geneva as well, meeting students and researchers from all over the world over relaxing dinners outside of R1 with Mont Blanc in the distance. As I wish to pursue a career in the field, I hope that this time away from CERN may only be temporary.


"Outside work, I was fortunate enough to not only be at CERN for the announcement of what appears to be the Higgs boson, I was actually in the auditorium for the announcement, a moment thousands of physicists around the globe patiently waited for over the last four decades."


Kevin inside the Higgs Update Seminar on July 4th, 2012

Undoubtedly, this was the best summer of my life. I want to thank the ALICE collaboration for the opportunity I was given this summer. Having the chance to work at CERN as a summer student will be a memory I will never forget. And hopefully, I will have many more chances to come back.