CERN Accelerating science

From Particle Physics to Computational Biology

by Argyris Zardilis

My name is  Argyris Zardilis and I come from  Lefkosia, the capital of Cyprus. For  the last 3  years however I  have been living  in England doing my undergraduate degree in Computer Science at the University of Southampton(just  graduated!).  Normally  you  don't  expect  computer scientists to consider CERN. As a poor and naive computer scientist it is hard to see  how you could be useful in such  a place.

I've learned about the summer student programmme and  how I could be useful at CERN by a  stroke of luck  as I met  a former summer  student(also computer scientist)  at  my  previous  summer  job.  His  comments  along  with encouregement  from my  university  supervisor were  the main  reasons behind my decision  to apply although the thought  of summer back home after graduation  was also tempting!  A thought quickly  brushed aside after receiving the acceptance email.  I was going to work on the Data Acquisition system(DAQ)  for the  ATLAS experiment. 

Before  coming to CERN and after  coming into contact with my  supervisor I've done some introductory  reading  and  watching(ATLAS  star  war  themed  youtube videos!)  to get acquainted with the experiment and the DAQ system but it  wasn't until  my first  week  that I've  started understanding  my project and the work that is done in the group.  The DAQ is the system responsible  for the  fast  and  reliable transfer  of  data from  the detector to the permanent  storage passing through a layered structure of  filters  or triggers  of  increasing  detail  and decreasing  datarate. The system  is currently in a redesign phase  to handle the much larger data rates  for the reopening of the  experiment with increased luminosity in 2015.  My first task was to create a  tool that gets the statistics  published   by  each  application   in  the  system(events published, rates etc.)  and aggregates them in a meaningful way to get a general idea of the performance  of the system.  The second task was to   create   an   application   that  automagically   generates   the configuration databases  that describe the structure  and behaviour of the system.

Work and  the summer  student lecture programme  are only part  of the summer student experience; the other being the social! Although before coming here  I didn't expect  a strict white-collar environment  I was still  surprised   by  the   openness  and  relaxed   atmosphere  I've encountered  here(beers in  R1,  sports in  open  grass areas,  summer student parties in the Pump Hall!) which reminds more of my university campus than  a 'proper'  workplace.  I have  also probably  heard more languages  at CERN  than I've  done in  my whole  life although  in my office Italian  dominates! Geneva and  nearby cities, at least  in the summer,  are also  particularly lively  with lots  of fetes(one  of the first french words that I picked up!).

All  in  all I've  had  great experience  so  far  and I'd  definitely recommend it  to anyone , regardless  of background. I'd  love to come back to  CERN some time in the future although I'm not sure  that my short-term plans align with CERN  research. Next year and for at least one year  I will  be  in  England  again (Cambridge this  time)  doing Computational Biology which is a slight change in direction for me but who knows what the future holds!



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