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ATLAS and ALICE PhD Awards

Two of the LHC experiments, ATLAS and ALICE, recently announced winners of the “ATLAS PhD Grant” and “ALICE Thesis Award” schemes. The prizes aim to foster healthy competition between young members of the two collaborators and acknowledge the hard efforts of the winners but also of those who were considered for these awards. Moreover, the two initiatives aim to inspire young scientists to consider continuing their career in the exciting physics fields studied by the two experiments.

ATLAS Grant Recipients Announced

At a small ceremony in CERN's Building 40, three young ATLAS students celebrated the start of their postgraduate studies at CERN. As the recipients of the 2015 ATLAS PhD Grant, Ruth Jacobs (Germany), Artem Basalaev (Russia) and Nedaa B I Asbah (Palestine) have received two years of funding for their studies, spending one year at CERN and another back at their home institute.

The winners of the 2015 ATLAS Thesis Awards: Nils Ruthmann, Ruth Pöttgen, Steven Schramm and Javier Montejo Berlingen. (Image: S. Biondi / ATLAS Experiment © CERN 2016)

Now in its third year, the ATLAS PhD Grant awards talented and motivated doctoral students in the ATLAS experiment. This year, all three of the grant recipients are return-visitors to the ATLAS experiment, having first arrived at CERN during their university studies. "I'm excited to be back," says Ruth Jacobs, who is doing her PhD with the University of Bonn (Germany). "I first came as a summer student while working on my Master's thesis, and am looking forward to starting my studies here in April."

One of the great advantages of the ATLAS PhD Grant is its focus on encouraging student's stay at CERN. "The Grant is an excellent opportunity," comments Artem Basalaev, who is doing his PhD with the Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute (Russia). "Without this support, I would not have been able to spend a full year based at CERN; I would have only had short visits. When based at CERN, communication is easier: you can go to Building 40, have a coffee, pass by some experts and just ask their advice. That's not possible when you are working remotely from your institute."

Nedaa B I Asbah is also looking forward to being based at CERN while she works on her PhD with DESY /Humboldt University Berlin (Germany). "I found out about the Grant initiative from my supervisor while taking part in the CERN Summer Student programme in 2013," says Nedaa B I Asbah. "I began my first year at CERN this month, working in the ATLAS' ttH (top quark pair and Higgs) group."

The ATLAS PhD Grant was established by former ATLAS spokespersons Peter Jenni and Fabiola Gianotti, who created the fund with Fundamental Physics Prize award money they received in 2013. Applications for this year's Grant are now open.

To sustain the programme over the coming years, the fund is also open to anyone interested in contributing. Visit the CERN & Society website to find out more.

ALICE Thesis Awards (by Iva Rayanova)

Much of the data analysis and detector development in ALICE are done by the PhD students. These students have just a few years to learn about the ALICE physics, the practical aspects of the computing environment, the technical details of the ALICE detector and subsequently use that knowledge to do their own data analysis or technical project. Most of our hundreds of PhD students succeed to contribute significantly to our experiment while in parallel working on their theses. The PhD thesis is a comprehensive description of the work done, including all the background information needed to understand how the work was done, why it is important and what can be concluded from it.

The thesis award committee expresses the appreciation of the collaboration for this contribution by awarding the two best theses, written and successfully defended by an ALICE member in the preceding year. The first implicit selection of theses happens through the nomination procedure, where the student should get supporting letters from his/her supervisor and a physicist outside their own group. In this way the award committee gets typically twelve nominations each year. During the six years that I have been chair of the thesis committee, I have found that all these nominated theses are of very high quality. Each year I greatly enjoy reading them.

The thesis committee does not take its job lightly. The reference letters help us to understand the background of the student and what the contribution of the student was. However, all members of the thesis committee also read the theses independently and grade them for relevance to the ALICE experimental programme, the excellence of the work done, the results achieved, the innovation in the methods and the didactic quality of the thesis. Reading twelve theses carefully is not a small effort and therefore the committee takes about two months, including the Christmas holidays, to complete this task. Usually the combined grades results in a short list, the best of the best, which is then discussed in a committee meeting in January and from which the two winners are selected.

As the collaboration has evolved from first beam until routinely taking data in 2015, we have also seen the theses evolving. Unfortunately, the number of theses about technical subjects that reach the committee has dropped to less than three in the past years. Therefore two years ago the committee has decided to drop the distinction between the two categories and to award the best one or two overall theses. Perhaps this can be reconsidered once the activities for the upgrades start to result in more technical theses. Personally I greatly appreciate the technical efforts which make the experiment possible.

This year the committee found two theses on the short list that were really close in all the grades. In order to avoid an arbitrary choice for the first and second place, we decided to award them ex-aequo. I really recommend to read the thesis of Simone Schuchmann (Goethe Universität Frankfurt) and that of Andrea Festanti (Università degli studi di Padova). The award ceremony will take place during the Collaboration board meeting in Arpil. During the ceremony Simone and Andrea will highlight the results of their theses in a three minute flash talk. Beside a modest financial contribution, the award consists of a commemorative plaquette. We hope that the award will stimulate the winners to continue their excellent work. From this year on the committee will offer its support for students who want to be nominated for the ’Springer Thesis’. This is an award by Springer, which gives additional publicity to the winners. Of course, Springer makes its own choices but, based on the theses that I have seen in the past years, I am confident that ALICE theses are among the best in physics.

The article on ATLAS PhS Awards appeared on the ATLAS website and the atlas on ALICE Thesis Awards was originally published in ALICE Matters.