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.

Gaëtan Bretön is a 21-year-old French student of Engineering at the Institut supérieur d'électronique et du numérique (ISEN) in the city of Brest. His interest in CERN arose during his high school years, when he was following the progress of the LHC activities and the discovery of the Higgs boson. Hence, when he had to look for an internship, he immediately thought of CERN and found its Summer Student Programme. “I was really happily surprised when I learnt that I had been selected,” Gaëtan comments.

He joined the Detector Control System (DCS) team of the ALICE experiment to work – under the supervision of Peter Chochula– on the test and characterization of temperature and humidity sensors, which will be installed in the ALICE detector during the next upgrade. His work consisted mainly in developing a benchmark to be used in the future for choosing the sensors to integrate in the system. “The sensors are required to be able to work in water as well – in case of presence of condensation – thus, among other things, I had to perform tests immerging them in water,” he explains.

This experience allowed Gaëtan not only to learn more about physics and particle detectors, but also to open up his perspectives: “Being an engineer, I thought that after the University I would go to work in industry,” he tells, “but, spending this summer at CERN, I realized that working in research can be very interesting. So, I am open to this possibility as well.” 

He is not sure, though, if he would apply immediately for a PhD. “I think that I should first make up my mind about what kind of career path to follow, because in France, if you want to work in industry, it is better to go in that direction straight away, while a PhD might be considered by the companies as over qualification and not necessarily valuable for them. Maybe this is different in other countries…

The impact of this experience is certainly remarkable from the personal point of view too. Gaëtan had never really spent time abroad and this was his first occasion to meet and work with people from all over the world.  He could also feel the peculiar working atmosphere that exists in a research centre as CERN: “This is the thing I liked the most,” he highlights, “I could perceive the passion of people, who do their job because they are really into it. They do not have somebody behind their shoulders telling them continuously what to do and pushing them, it is primarily their genuine motivation and curiosity that makes researchers work.

At the moment, Gaëtan is attending his fifth year of University and, at the same time, he is working in a company. A new experience has just started for him. “It is going to be an intense period,” he says smiling.