by Virginia Greco. Published: 12 October 2018

Last summer, the ALICE collaboration welcomed fifteen students coming from all over the world, who joined the CERN Summer Student Programme. They spent between eight and ten weeks at the laboratory, following a busy schedule of lessons, workshops and hands-on projects. We talked with some of them about this experience and their impressions about it.

Francesca Ercolessi is a 23-year-old student from Italy who completed her Bachelor in Physics at the University of Bologna and is now attending a Master in Nuclear and Sub-Nuclear Physics at the same institute. Her interest in CERN originated a few years ago, when she was still at high school and had the occasion to visit the laboratory and learn about its research activities. Later, she discovered the CERN Summer Student Programme and this year she played her cards and was actually selected. “My will to eventually go and spend some time at CERN influenced my studying choices,” Francesca explains. “In particular, I tried to acquire some skills that I knew would be very helpful, such as coding in C++ and ROOT.

She joined ALICE at her third year of University and developed a Bachelor’s thesis in the experiment under the guidance of Luisa Cifarelli, who is professor at the University of Bologna. “I had learnt about the ALICE detector and field of interest thanks to a seminar organized at my Institute,” comments Francesca. “When Prof Cifarelli proposed me to perform some analysis  of ALICE data, I was happy to accept.” At that time, she worked on the TOF detector and on the matching efficiency between the TOF detector and the tracking system.

During the summer internship that she has just carried out at CERN, she participated in a project searching for physics beyond the Standard Model, working under the supervision of Alexandru Dobrin. In particular, her data analysis was oriented at looking for events showing the production of stable heavy-charged particles, in pp collisions at the centre-of-mass energy of 13 TeV. These particles would lose quickly an important amount of energy via ionization and, thus, would move at lower speed.

I found some tracks which could be interesting,” Francesca explains; “thus we looked at them in the event display as well and we saw that there was something strange, indeed. Of course, they could also be due to an error in the reconstruction, so the study has to be continued. I have left it in the hands of the experts.

Back in Bologna, Francesca is now focusing on concluding her Master’s studies and she already knows that she would like to start a career in research, enrolling for a PhD. “I might even continue working in ALICE, why not?” she says.

Being a summer student at CERN has been an incredible experience,” states Francesca, “both from a professional and from a personal point of view. I learnt a lot from my supervisors and colleagues, I had the opportunity to understand some of the dynamics inside a research group and how to work on various tasks. In addition, I could study and work with people coming from so many different countries: the cultural exchange was fantastic and really enriching.”