The first recipients of the ATLAS PhD Grant were presented with a certificate on 11 February at CERN by the programme’s selection committee. The three scholars, Lailin Xu of China, Josefina Alconada of Argentina, and Gagik Vardanyan of Armenia, were delighted at being able to continue their PhD programmes at CERN.
"This funding makes such a difference," says Alconada, who is working on the spin of the Higgs boson at the Unviersity of La Plata in Argentina. "It will allow me to stay at CERN for one more year – where I can attend meetings, give presentations, and go to people’s offices to ask questions directly."
"For people like us, from non-member states whose insitutes can’t afford to send us here, this is so encouraging," says Vardanyan, of Yerevan Physics Institute, who is working on precision measurements for Quantum Chromodynamics. "I couldn’t believe it when I saw the email."
Lailin Xu had returned home to China after his funding to study in the US ran out. His supervisor brought him to CERN on her own personal funding so he could continue his work on the Standard Model cross-section measurements. Xu was working in the ATLAS cavern, 100 metres below ground, when he received the email detector (yes, there is internet there!) informing him that he had received the scholarship. "I didn’t think I had a chance -- that it was meant more for European and people from member states -- and then I got that email. I was really happy," says Xu.
All three of the students say that the experience has already taught them something: to pay it forward in the future, and invest in education.
"In countries like ours, there are brilliant people but access to opportunities is limited. Scholarships like these make a huge difference," says Alconada.
The ATLAS PhD Grant initiative was initiated by former ATLAS spokespersons, Peter Jenni and Fabiola Gianotti, with the Fundamental Physics Prize award money they received last year. Both have used the entirety of their prizes for educational and humanitarian programmes.
"We wanted to do something for students who are working on ATLAS, in particular those who otherwise could not come here and actually see the detector they are working on," says Jenni. "What better use of the award than make it possible for such students?"
The ATLAS PhD Grant covers two years of PhD thesis funding for about eight talented and motivated young researchers, with some emphasis on choosing those with limited financial resources. The students will spend one year at CERN and another back at their home institute. The initiative is also open to those interested in contributing to the fund and making it possible to sustain the programme.