Students bring the summer to CERN

28 July 2008

Summer students dance at the first party of the season

Anyone working at the Meyrin site over the last few weeks cannot have failed to notice the fresh crop of bright and beautiful faces that has recently sprung up. Forget the glorious field of sunflowers doing their thing outside the Globe, we’re talking summer students!

The CERN Summer Student Programme is a tightly-run operation which has been fine tuned since its inception at the beginning of the Sixties. This year, 143 students from member states are included in the official Programme; with a further 70 from non-member states such as the USA, Japan, and Israel; and a handful more who have been invited privately by their tutors. Each will stay for between eight and thirteen weeks, attending lectures in the mornings and working on practical projects in the afternoons.

ATLAS is hosting around 35 students this year, across all areas of the experiment, from the detector itself through to software and computing. “It’s a unique opportunity for young people to come to CERN. There’s a learning phase that takes days, weeks, but after that they really do contribute to our work,” said Patrick Fassnacht, Head of the CERN ATLAS Team and Coordinator of the ATLAS students. “For them it’s really fantastic to have this first contact and to see how one operates in a High Energy Physics experiment.”

Ingrid Schmid, coordinator of the whole CERN Programme agrees: “We want to attract the best students in our member states and give them a taste of what it’s like here,” she says, adding: “It really is a first class lecture program too. It runs over six weeks and includes specialist speakers from both inside and outside CERN.”

Belgian Benoit Delville, an engineering student from the University of Lille, France, is working with Paolo Iengo on developing monitoring tools to check the magnetic field strength and temperature around some of the ATLAS sensors. He heard good things about the Programme through a fellow Lille student, who came out to CERN last year. “When I was accepted as a summer student, I was feeling very lucky,” he smiles, “and it continues to be great. Working on the ATLAS Experiment, and finding out how it works is really interesting. And it’s a critical moment for CERN right now.”

German physics student Alexander Voigt, from the Technical University of Dresden, Germany, has been pleasantly surprised by the collaborative environment he’s discovered at CERN. “What I like most here is the nice international atmosphere. Everybody discusses their work with everybody else, far away from any geopolitical relations,” he says. “Also, there is always an expert around for every problem you might have. That's something I will truly miss back at my university!”

Alexander is working in the ATLAS Detector Systems group with Tancredi Carli and Andreas Hoecker, studying and implementing a new classification method called 'PDEFoam’. When asked what he will take from the experience of being here, he is philosophical: “Of course, my new knowledge about data analysis, my improved language skills and so on, but also the many connections I’ve made,” he considers. “I think having a lot of specialist international contacts will help me a lot in doing scientific work in the future.”

Of course, lectures and hard work are only half of the story. What the Summer Students get up to when they’ve clocked off for the day is probably best left to the imagination, but suffice to say that many new friendships are being formed. “We already have plans for after CERN,” says Benoit.

Outside of the student groups, the energy and exuberance brought to the site by the sociable young things seems to be universally appreciated. “You see all the young people playing volleyball outside at six in the evening,” says Patrick, “and when the first ones arrive at the end of May, you see new faces around and you really feel the fresh life coming into CERN.”




Ceri Perkins

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