by Stefano Calleja. Published: 15 August 2014

Whilst following my now completed B.Sc. (Hons) in Microelectronics and Embedded Systems at the University of Malta a couple of years ago, I was made aware of the CERN Summer Student Programme through some friends of mine. After hearing about their great experience, I felt it would indeed be a special opportunity to apply for. Being accepted was, beyond any doubt, the start of a truly enriching journey.

I have been assigned a project related to the ALICE inner tracking system and the chips used for the electronics of the new ITS. The FX3 chip is used as an interface between the FPGA and the PC allowing the FPGA to have USB3 connectivity. Currently, both the FPGA and the FX3 have dedicated memories which are required to be programmed individually through a PC. The upgrade would allow the FX3 to be programmed directly from a PC and subsequently allow the FPGA to be programmed from a PC through the FX3. This would reduce the programming of memories and would allow the user to program the board through USB3 only. The objectives are, thus, to upload firmware onto the FX3, program the FPGA via JTAG through the FX3 and consequently, enhance the speed of data transfer in the system. The project also required compatibility with Linux environment.

Even though I had already been familiar with FPGAs and their respective programming environments, this project opened a variety of  perspectives for embedded systems.

Prior to my arrival at CERN, I had expected coming across interesting people, high-end technology and an enticing learning environment. The sense of welcome made this truly possible - my expectations have indeed been met. Whilst at CERN, I visited three experiments: CMS, ALICE and ATLAS. The immense size of these experiments, together with the cutting edge technology, are proof of the undeniably laudable contribution of CERN to the scientific community.

In my free time, I have done my best to explore local environments resulting in hikes on the Jura and Salève mountains, as well as cycling around Nyon, Thoiry, Gex and other areas in France. I have also had the pleasure of visiting Annecy. Last but not least, I have toured Geneva, attended a concert in the old town and enjoyed a local feast.

Being a Summer Student at CERN has changed my perspective on different levels. The entire experience has allowed me to grow and learn in uniquely engaging surroundings.  It has surely been a memorable summer!