by Virginia Greco. Published: 16 October 2017

Last summer Oliver Matonoha, a graduate student at the Czech Technical University in Prague, has taken part in the CERN summer student programme and has worked in ALICE on testing and improving the reconstruction algorithm for the Transition Radiation Detector (TRD). We have asked him to share with us his impressions about this experience.

Oliver Matonoha (the first from the right) with some of his fellow summer students.


Oliver is just back to his “normal life” in Prague, after spending 11 weeks at CERN as a summer student in the ALICE experiment. A graduate student at the Czech Technical University in Prague, his hometown, he is expected to get his Master’s degree towards the end of the year. The completion of his study path requires the development of a research project and the writing of a report thesis on it. Thus, Oliver has been working on data analysis for the STAR experiment at RHIC, Brookhaven National Lab (US).

He halted his research work for almost three months in order to be able to take part in the CERN summer student programme. Being already familiar with heavy-ion physics – thanks to his activities in STAR – he joined the ALICE experiment. Here, he worked on testing and improving the reconstruction algorithm for the Transition Radiation Detector (TRD).

It was different from what I am doing in STAR, since there was no particle reconstruction involved,” Oliver comments. “I mainly worked on simulations, with classes of the AliRoot framework that simulate the hardware response. I learned a lot and I really enjoyed it.”

Applying to the CERN summer student programme seems to be a sort of tradition at the Czech Technical University in Prague, as Oliver explains: “Every year a number of people studying experimental physics at my University apply and usually they get most of the few places assigned to the Czech Republic.

During the first weeks, Oliver followed the lectures in the morning and went to work in his office in the afternoon. In this first phase, he spent his time mainly trying to get acquainted with the code and the ALICE framework. In the last month of his stay, when he was done with the classes, he worked harder, focusing on finishing his project and taking home some results. “I would say I am quite happy with what I got,” he comments, “There is still room for improvement, but all in all it went fine.

Besides the topic of the project itself, what he really enjoyed was the possibility to work side by side with more expert colleagues and realize how complex is their job, how many steps have to be done and how many aspects need to be considered in order to get any sort of results.

The experience was certainly inspiring from the point of view of work, and the human aspect was not less interesting. “It was amazing, hard to describe,” Oliver says. “It was incredible to meet such a large group of people, being about my age and sharing similar yet unique backgrounds and interests. We could socialize, spend time together, organize activities and have fun as if we were at a summer camp.

During the weekends, Oliver used to meet with other summer students and go out for a trip, a hike on the mountains or a swim in the lake. They went to the Jura Mountains and the Mont Blanc, visited Grenoble and Basel. “Once we even cycled around the Lake Geneva. It is quite a long way, so we did it in two days, spending a night in Montreux.

Back in Prague, Oliver is working on concluding his research in order to get his Master’s degree. In the meanwhile, he is looking for opportunities to enroll for a PhD. He is intrigued by the possibility of entering a PhD programme in the US and continuing to work in the STAR collaboration. But, as he learned, unfortunately his Master’s degree would not necessarily be recognized by some of the universities in the US, so he would have to spend up to two years following courses and taking exams, instead of focusing on research right away. Thus, he greatly considers staying in Europe: “I think it would be good to enter a PhD programme in Switzerland or in The Netherlands, or maybe in Scandinavia. In any case, I definitely want to go abroad for my PhD.

His first choice would be to stay in heavy-ion physics, nevertheless, he might consider other possibilities in other big collaborations, such as ATLAS and CMS.

What I really like about heavy-ion physics is that we have discovered the Quark Gluon Plasma but we still know little about it and its connections to, for example, cosmological models. It is very fundamental physics, since we are reproducing the first instants of the life of the Universe, but it is still quite unknown. I also like the nature of the analysis that you have to do to get the information, which is quite complex: you need to study the medium from many points of view, combine these results and try to make sense of what you see.”