by Iva Raynova. Published: 31 August 2016

Ever since 1962, each summer nearly 300 students from all over the world come to CERN to take part in the day-to-day work of the experiments. This year 30 students in physics, computing and engineering were welcomed in ALICE and for most of them this is the beginning of a lifetime journey. By doing either hardware and lab work, programming or data analysis, during those few weeks of summer they acquire skills and knowledge which will serve them throughout their careers.

I learned a lot. I have had previous internships, but what I did here definitely taught me the most in a very short period of time and in a very relaxed atmosphere. I did a lot of work, but at the same time I could pace myself, I could learn at my own rhythm. I didn’t feel like I was monitored too closely, I felt like I had the liberty to learn the way I wanted to. I was not expected just to perform, but also to learn, and I am most productive under such conditions. It is a nice medium in which you can develop and grow. Being in ALICE was extremely beneficial to me” – says Laura-Iuliana Munteanu, who studies Masters in physics in Paris, France. In ALICE she worked on the properties of monolithic active pixel sensors, a new type of sensors that are going to be part of the Inner Tracking System (ITS) during Run 3. “I had a couple of sample chips in my experimental setup, which we used for research and development. I used X-rays to examine their performance. That was the experimental part of my job. The rest was data analysis, for which I wrote a code with the help of my supervisor.”

Laura-Iuliana

Since quantum chromodynamics and the properties of the quark-gluon plasma aren’t broadly covered in the universities’ programmes yet, learning details about them was the most interesting thing for Francesco Toschi. He studies for a Masters degree in nuclear and sub-nuclear physics at the University of Bologna, Italy. “I was working on the Cosmic and Topology Trigger Module (CTTM), the main trigger board of the Time of Flight (TOF) detector. The computer architecture of the detector had to be changed from 32 to 64 bits and my task was to rewrite the code. I also wrote some code for the TOF Data Quality Monitor (DQM), I did some plots for the detector’s trigger. My previous experience was at a dark-matter experiment where you don’t have a constant flow of data to be monitored. Before coming here, I didn’t know about DQM and how important it is for an experiment.”

Francesco (third from left to right) with his friends

In addition to their work in the experiments, the summer students attend a series of lectures and workshops specially prepared for them. “I went to a five-hour silicon detector and radiation damage workshop, a ROOT workshop and I also built a cloud chamber. All of them were really useful” – says Dana Bobulska, a Masters student in particle physics from Slovakia. “It was my dream to come to CERN ever since I was in high-school. In ALICE I worked with real data and I find this amazing! I was searching for possible invariant mass from the pentaquark. Half of my work was to write the code, then I used it to analyse my sample of data and to understand the physics behind it.”

Dana with her friends

For Harry Lyons, a Masters student in physics at the University of Liverpool, being a summer student turned out to be life-changing. “This is my first experience with real-world science. Before coming here, I was a little bit sceptical about working in the field. I was a bit nervous about how difficult it would be, but it is definitely interesting and vibrant here. Now I am planning on doing a PhD and particle physics is one of the things I am seriously considering.” In ALICE he was studying how jets lose energy when they traverse the quark-gluon plasma. “We were investigating 2+1 correlations. For most of the time I was doing models of the collisions and then I was working on the analysis techniques. Even though sometimes you are staring at a code for quite a few hours, when you keep in mind what the bigger picture is, it is definitely interesting.”

Harry

It was not all about work, but also about having fun and socialising with the rest of the summer students. “During the weekends we were going on trips – visiting nearby cities, hiking in the mountains, biking by the lake. Or just cooking with friends – Italians, Germans, discovering cultures. One day we climbed the Salève, stayed there until sunset, enjoyed the view of night Geneva. Then we took the lift down” – says Dana.

Oguz Demirbasci, a student in computer science from Turkey, found another fun way to spend his free time. “A friend of mine, also a summer student, and I took part in the Summer Student Webfest. We developed a series of educational mini-games about the LHC and the basic principles of particle physics. We got the Best Design award for our project.” In ALICE he worked on the Detector Control System, writing code for controlling and measuring certain parameters, such as the temperature and the humidity in the ALICE surface areas. “I learned a lot and I got the chance to work in a really comfortable environment. I would advise more students to apply for the programme, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Oguz (first on the left) with his friends at Point 2