by Panos Charitos. Published: 20 July 2013

I met Xiangrong Zhu in the beginning of the summer during a Chinese dinner that was organized by Ping Yang (see In spotlight with Ping Yang ) and a group of young Chinese colleagues from the LHCb experiment. Xiangrong is a PhD student in the Central China Normal University and is working under the supervision of Constantin Loizides. He has been working on his thesis here at CERN since March 2012 and we thought that this was a good moment to Focus On him.

1) How long have you been at CERN and how would you describe your experience so far?

The first time I heard about CERN and ALICE was during the first year of my Master degree in 2007. My supervisor Daicui Zhou, a professor at Central China Normal University and leader of the ALICE-China team, introduced me to the physics programme of ALICE.

At that time there were no data taken yet and hence my work was mainly focusing on Monte Carlo simulation of two-hadron correlations. After finishing my MSc thesis in 2010 I moved on to pursue my PhD. I started working on neutral-hadron correlations in ALICE. I spent close to seven years at ALICE. I learnt many things about IT and electronics technologies as well as about the spirit of collaboration among scientists which is essential for an experiment of the size of ALICE.

2) When and why did you decide to come and work at CERN?

I arrived at CERN on February 21, 2011, with my colleagues Yaxian and Mengliang. It was the first time that I was leaving my home country. The first time I entered CERN by catching the shuttle bus from Geneva it felt like magic. I couldn’t believe that the world's largest energy particle accelerator, the LHC, was under my feet.

I thought that moving to CERN and meeting other scientists working in different fields would be an important chance to improve my work. I thought of it as a challenge for further advancing my knowledge but also coming up with a new approach in my work. As there are so many scientists around – both experimentalists and theorists- you can get important feedback about your work. Of course, you can also attend many conferences that are held each year at CERN.

Following my first stay at CERN I came back on March 21, 2012 and I will spend another two years under the support of the China Scholarship Council (CSC). I will move back to China after that to defend my PhD thesis.

3) What are your current research plans?

My work is supervised by Constantin Loizides, a convener of ALICE PWG-GA group and the topic of my thesis is related to neutral-hadron correlations in pp and Pb-Pb collisions with ALICE. We are looking at two different things. The first is to measure the correlations between π and hadrons and the second is related to photon-hadron correlations. Using the special calorimeters of ALICE, EMCal and PHOS, the medium effects are expected to be understood in π0-hadron correlations by azimuthal angular correlations and hadron yields in Pb-Pb collisions.

Meanwhile, based on measurements of direct photons emerging from the QGP, we will try to measure the parton fragmentation through direct photon-hadron/jets correlations. Photos are very interesting probes as they don’t interact strongly with the created medium while they are dominated by QGP Compton scattering and quark-antiquark annihilation.

My research in both fields is ongoing and I hope that soon we will have some exciting results to present; shedding more light on the properties of the QGP.

4) What are your future plans?

My future plans! In the short term, I have to work hard to finish my present work for my PhD. After that I will look for a post-doc position in a topic related to ALICE and definitely in the field of QCD. I think that I should start looking for a post-doc position near the end of this year so wish me good luck.

5) Which part of your time at CERN will you miss when you get back to China?

If I have to choose one I would pick the friends that I made and the chance to meet and discuss with many people from different countries. Through discussions with my friends I learn about different cultures, working styles but also more day-to-day experiences. Of course discussing our results is part of the social life you have as a science and perhaps one of the aspects that make life at CERN so special.

6) During your stay at CERN you learnt...

A lot. Since I came to CERN I learnt many things that I could never imagine. Perhaps the most important is the significant role that communication has nowadays as experiments are conducted by large collaborations. In our analysis we often need to discuss with other people and this is a fast way of learning things that you don’t know about. Moreover, I think communicating with so many people gave me the chance to improve my language skills. The third one, I think is the attitude that one should have as a researchers. As a researcher, you often need to calm down in you work.