CERN Accelerating science

Summer Students 2017: looking back to a unique summer experience

by Panos Charitos, Virginia Greco

The 2017 summer student programme has been another rich edition with 340 students from 90 countries coming to CERN for a unique summer experience like nowhere else on earth. Students have the opportunity to attend lectures, workshops, and take part in various activities in a rich programme that will make for memories to last a lifetime.

The Summer Student Programme is organized by the HR team, who start working already from October each year and the process ends when the last students leave at the end of the following September. Applications are considered and validated from October to the application deadline, usually at the end of January. Assessing over 1500 applications is quite a task! And that’s just for students coming from the Member States, while in the last years a different strand for students from the Non-Member States has been developed.

The NMS Summer Students Programme constitutes an important part of CERN's policy of promoting greater global integration in particle physics. According to Emmanuel Tsesmelis, the coordinator of the Programme, many former NMS summer students have gone on to bright careers in science and they have often facilitated scientific collaborations between CERN and their countries. The NMS Summer Students Programme is financed only partly by CERN, while additional funding is provided by the governments and universities of the Non Member States as well as from other external sponsors. These are crucial for the continuation of the programme.

The selections are made in March by the supervisors and the lucky students are informed in April. Contracts are prepared and sent in May and the first students start arriving in June. On each of the arrival dates the Summer Student team meets and greets the students for a brief induction session to inform them about their Summer at CERN.

In parallel to the formal programme including lectures covering a wide range of topics and the project assigned to each student; they also have the chance to visit different sites around CERN and learn more about the diversity of CERN's research programme. Social events are also an important aspect of the programme. Parties, barbecues, and trips in Geneva and around Switzerland are organised by the students.

We met few of them and here are the stories they have to share.

Alonso, Costa Rica

“Hi, I’m Alonso Corrales form Costa Rica, I just finished my Bachelor and have started my Master’s degree. I always wanted to come to CERN, it’s been a key motivating factor throughout my studies. CERN inspired me to study physics because I have always been interested in the fundamental constituents of matter, in knowing how the world works.

I first heard of CERN at high school, through documentaries and the internet. I have always been interested in atomic theory, fundamental particles and naturally came across CERN and its research. I looked forward to coming to CERN but didn’t expect to so soon in my career!

Today I’m presenting our Poster about the measurement of top an anti-top quark pair systems in CMS and TOTEM collaborations. It’s part of the highlights of being here: getting to know first-hand how real-world research works, at the boundaries of science. Being able to witness how scientists work at this level and to be in contact with those researchers is amazing.

The programme also gives you the opportunity to be among different cultures, people from all countries. Imagine sitting with 10-15 people from different countries and cultures but realising that we all have the same motivations and interests, we’re driven by something together. I love how it doesn’t matter where you’re from, we’re all human, we interact and learn from each other.

 My advice to anyone out there considering the summer student programme is don’t hesitate at all. Actually before coming I doubted for a second whether I should apply as I’m more into theoretical physics and thought I wouldn’t get a project on that at CERN. But it doesn’t matter as whatever the project you get, you will learn so much, you will gain so many skills and experiences!”

Warda, Oman

“Hello, my name is Warda, I’m from Oman, and I have done a Major in general physics, and a Minor in medical physics. A friend participated in the CERN Summer Student Programme last year and encouraged me to come. I didn’t think I’d be accepted, I’m so happy to be here, working on the CMS experiment to develop new analysis methods to find the mass of W boson. I started on 2nd July.

I’m enjoying the lectures, they’re all very good, some of them are high level and complicated, but you get into it, you get used to it.

What’s life like here? You meet so many different people from different cultures: it’s not only about physics, you get to know more about other countries without visiting them! The experience also makes you more responsible, you’re away from family and home, so it’s both an educational and personal experience. You have to do everything yourself, you become more independent, it’s about personal growth.

The area is great, I thought it would be cold in Europe but it’s very hot, maybe because it’s summer. But there is no air conditioning here! Each weekend gives a new opportunity to visit places so you do loads of tourism. The best place for me so far has been Paris, Disneyland. It was great! And I also went to Milan.

My advice to anyone thinking of applying is to go for it: to increase your knowledge, to grow more, to know more. Don’t hesitate!”

Francesca Alemanno

“I think that participating in this programme is a unique opportunity for us to grow as physicists and as human beings,” states Francesca Alemanno, one of the ALICE summer students at CERN who shared with us their impressions about this experience. She arrived in Geneva at the beginning of July travelling from her hometown, Lecce, in Italy. “I came here alone and didn’t know anybody, but I immediately found people willing to help and made new friends.”

The project she is involved in, which is led by Cristina Terrevoli and Andrea Festanti, focuses on the study of the v3, the third Fourier coefficient of the azimuthal distribution of particles (produced in the collision) in the plane perpendicular to the beam direction. In particular, the objective of the project is to implement analysis techniques and software tools to study the v3 coefficient within the ALICE analysis framework for the D0 meson and test them on data from Pb-Pb collisions at 5.02 TeV energy per nucleon in the centre of mass.

This experience allows Francesca to improve her technical skills and enrich her background in fundamental physics. In fact, even though she had already experience in coding and in particular in using the ROOT package, she had to get acquainted with the ALICE analysis environment and with the physics of heavy ions. “I had already learnt the basics of this field of physics at the University,” she highlights, “but doing analysis and working on real data is a completely different matter”.

Florian Jonas & Hannah Bossi

Florian and Hannah are now very good friends, even though they met only a couple of months ago in their office at CERN, where they sit one next to the other. Coming from Germany and the US respectively, they are participating in the CERN summer student programme developing a project in ALICE.

Florian Jonas is at his first year of Master in Physics at the University of Münster, Germany, while Hannah Bossi is concluding her Bachelor at the Colby College in Maine, US. Both are really enthusiastic about the experience they are living and accepted to share with us some of their impressions.

“When I decided to apply to this programme, I was very excited about the opportunity to go to CERN and meet people of my age coming from so many different places and cultures,” Hannah tells with a big smile on her face. “I also wanted to explore particle physics more and get some hands-on experience.”

“It is a very cool programme, indeed,” adds Florian, “for the people you can meet, for the work experience in the ‘real world’ of experimental physics, and also because you get to live in a different country for a while”.

Besides following the lectures and the workshops foreseen by the programme, they are working in data analysis on different but related projects.

Hannah is studying neutral Kaons (K0_s) via their decays into neutral pions, which can be reconstructed in ALICE using their decay into two photons, mainly analysing data from pp collisions at 8 TeV energy in the centre of mass. She was given some models to work on and, under the supervision of Markus Fasel, she is writing the code needed and getting some experience with data analysis.

Florian’s project focuses on the study of the omega (ω) and the eta (η) meson in pp collisions at a centre-of-mass energy of 7 and 8 TeV, through the reconstruction of its decays in p+/p-/p0  using the data samples collected by ALICE in 2010 and 2012. Supervised by Friederike Bock, he is building up on what he learned working on his Bachelor’s thesis, which was about omega meson reconstruction on a set of simulated data.

“I am really happy with the group I am working with, because we really collaborate and discuss things,” Florian comments enthusiastically. “In addition, I get to give talks in group meetings, which makes me feel part of a scientific community and allows me to practice speaking in front of an audience, something that will be very useful in my future career.”

The interviews with the ALICE summer students were conducted by Virginia Greco and published in August's issue of ALICE Matters.