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.

Zuzana in Prague (view of the castle in the background).

Zuzana Moravcova is 23, comes from Slovakia and is studying Particle Physics at the Faculty of Nuclear Sciences and Physics Engineering of the Czech Technical University in Prague. This summer, she spent 10 weeks at CERN, where she joined the ALICE experiment and worked under the supervision of Manuel Colocci.

She had learnt about the CERN Summer Student Programme from older colleagues at her Institute. “It is kind of a tradition that people from my Faculty apply to this programme and, since already some time, every year at least one person is selected,”Zuzana explains.

While at CERN, Zuzana collaborated with the physics analysis group working on cosmic ray data to check the resolution of the ALICE Time Of Flight (TOF) subdetector.  Cosmic rays were used because they provide much clearer events compared with those of LHC, thus bad or non-correctly calibrated channels could be identified. The TOF detector was tested at several levels of granularity, in both geometry and readout electronics. She also compared the results of her analysis with beam data. 

This was not her first experience in a heavy-ion experiment, since Zuzana was already involved in the STAR experiment at RHIC, for which she is working on d-mesons analysis using the machine learning technology. “There are still many things to understand about the QGP and the way it behaves,” comments Zuzana, “that is very intriguing and I find exciting to work at the edge of human knowledge.

She has to continue her Master’s studies, but she already knows that afterwards she will apply for a PhD position. “Until a couple of months ago, I didn’t know whether to go for a career in research or not, but now, after making this experience as a summer student, I am sure that I want to,” she states with enthusiasm. For her, it was also a precious occasion to spend some time abroad: “Even though Prague is abroad for me, it really feels like home, so this was my first real experience of living and working in another country. I enjoyed it and now I feel confident to apply to a University outside Slovakia or Czech Republic,”she adds.

Zuzana really appreciated the training and the work at CERN, but also the weekends spent with her new friends, making trips and exploring the area around the laboratory. She went many times to the mountains, which is something that she particularly enjoys, and she also made some rock climbing.

It was a marvelous experience. Before leaving to go to CERN,” she recounts, “my older friends who had already been summer students at CERN told me that this would probably be the best summer of my life. I thought that it was a bit of an exaggeration. But indeed, after only two weeks at CERN, I told myself ‘Yeah, this is definitely going to be the best summer of my life’.” She laughs.

ALICE TOF summer students and their supervisors at point 2. From left: Nicolo Jacuzzio, supervisor of Pierre-Alexandre Duverne (second from left) and Sivahami Uthayakumaar (middle); Zuzana Moravcova and her supervisor, Manuel Colocci.