CERN Accelerating science

From New Jersey to Geneva: the story of a CERN summer student

by Julia Gonski

From the moment I took my first physics class at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I knew I wanted to get involved with the high energy research group. Having always had a fascination with the subatomic particle world, I determined that working on a real research project in the field would be the easiest way to learn more. Shortly after this conclusion came the understanding that for those who were truly involved, CERN was the place to be. Several other students in my undergraduate physics program had already participated in past years of the summer student program, through the University of Michigan Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). Upon hearing about their amazing and educational experiences, I decided to apply, a decision which turned out to be extremely beneficial and formative for my undergraduate career.

Julie Gonski during her visit in the CMS cavern. She worked as a summer student with the CMS Higgs to γγ group.

My project at CERN this summer has been with the CMS Higgs to gamma gamma group, working on an analysis for the 2013 upgrade. Specifically, I’ve been working on vertex identification, which includes retraining multivariate analysis methods to incorporate 14TeV pile up conditions, and adding a photon time of flight discriminant to enhance efficiency. My past research experience includes several SUSY and Higgs searches, so I came into the program with a rudimentary understanding of high energy analysis, coupled with some papers to which my advisers had pointed me for reference and background. With this prior knowledge, I felt reasonably prepared for the analysis, and was well equipped to begin working as soon as I arrived at CERN.

As someone who has lived in New Jersey for twenty years, leaving the United States is always a source of excitement for me. Though I had been to Europe before the program, I had never been to Switzerland, and fully intended to do some travelling during my time at CERN. With this goal in mind, I spent weekends in Barcelona, Paris, and Montreux, punctuated by occasional weekends spent on CERN campus working and studying. In this sense, CERN is exactly how I expected it: a collaborative and international environment that is not only rich in intellectual opportunities, but in cultural opportunities as well.

Before participating in the summer student program, I was already fairly sure that I wanted to pursue high energy physics further, and go to graduate school for my Ph.D. Now, I am fully certain of these ambitions, and I plan to enter a doctorate program for experimental high energy physics immediately following my Bachelor’s. I am both honored and thrilled to have had the opportunity to work at CERN at such an early point in my career, and certainly hope to pursue work here in the future. Perhaps the most impressive thing about CERN to me, beyond the sheer complexity of both the instruments and the level of analysis, is the way in which thousands of scientists from across the globe can merge and accomplish phenomenal things. I can only hope to continue my career in physics as a part of such an efficient and inspiring collaboration.



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