Published: 28 June 2015

My name is Nikita Artamonov, I am 16, and go to the international school of Geneva. I am British, Russian, and Swiss, and will go on to do physics in the IB. I did a 1 week internship, (“stage d’observation” would be a better word for it), at CERN, organized by a physicist called Despina who works at project ALICE.

I have learnt a staggering amount of new stuff, mostly connected to particle physics, but also got to know CERN better and what people who work here actually do. Before I first arrived on Monday, all I knew about particle physics is that there are atoms, made of protons, electrons, and usually also neutrons. Now I know that there are other short-lived particles too, which exist in cosmic rays but have also been produced in the LHC, such as muons, Lambdas, Kaons, pions etc…

I also was lucky enough to be able to go underground and visit the massive ALICE detector, which was very impressive. Before coming here, all I knew about CERN was that it had a big tunnel underground, where particles where sped up so that they could show us something about the Big Bang. I didn’t know how they did it. I learnt that using electromagnets, charged particles experience a force, hence pushing them in one direction. When these particles collide, at a temperature roughly 100 000 times as hot as the core of our sun, they produce an environment where protons and neutrons decompose into even more elementary particles called quarks. This state of matter is like a soup of quarks and gluons, resembling the early conditions of the universe, fractions of a second after the Big Bang.

Nikita had the chance to visit he SC during his stay at CERN (Image Credit: Nikita Artamonov). 

I was also introduced to a Russian called Roman, who builds cameras that can detect high energy particles that come in cosmic rays. Although short- lived, these particles have so much energy that they can go straight through the earth. These particles, mostly muons (heavy electrons) can be detected using relatively simple machines. Obviously, not only physicists work at CERN. I visited the data centre, where the amount of data stored each year is equivalent to 4 piles of CDs roughly the height of Mt Blanc. I also visited the press office, where they have to deal with the media. I had visited ALICE with a film crew for the Discovery Channel earlier.

Obviously, although fascinating, learning years’ worth of physics, especially complex particle physics was a bit mind-boggling. At times my brain hurt, and sometimes I even thought the physicists were speaking a different language. Overall though, it was a great experience, and has really stimulated me intellectually. A big thank you to all the incredible people who work at CERN!

Cool fact: the particles in the LHC move so fast (about 99.999% the speed of light), that they cross the franco-swiss border 11 000 times a second!