ATLAS PhD Grant continues its support of up-and-coming talents

11 March 2020 | By

At an award ceremony in the Globe of Science and Innovation, the ATLAS Collaboration celebrated the new recipients of the ATLAS PhD Grant: Prajita Bhattarai, Hassnae El Jarrari and Albert Kong.

ATLAS,CERN & Society Foundation,ATLAS PhD Grant Scheme
On 27 February 2020, the ATLAS PhD Grant Awards were presented to three winning students. From left to right: Hassnae El Jarrari, Albert Kong, Prajita Bhattarai. (Image: S. E. Bennett/CERN)

Under the auspices of the CERN & Society Foundation, the ATLAS PhD Grant offers students a unique opportunity to enhance their doctoral studies in a one-of-a-kind research environment under the supervision and training of ATLAS Collaboration experts. Students receive two years of funding for their studies, spending one year at CERN and another back at their home institute.

The grant was established by former ATLAS Spokespersons Fabiola Gianotti and Peter Jenni, using the award money from the Special Fundamental Physics Breakthrough Prize that they received in 2013. “We wanted to give back something special to ATLAS, the project we had been living with day and nights for decades,” explained Peter Jenni, speaking at the award ceremony. “We remembered our own time as students, working enthusiastically on experimental particle physics and dreaming of future experiments. The impact that working as students at CERN had on us both was decisive. So, we wanted to offer the same opportunity to some of the brightest students – regardless of where they come from – in the stimulating environment of the ATLAS Experiment.”

Reflecting the international character of CERN and the ATLAS Collaboration, there have been 16 nationalities present among the recipients of the ATLAS PhD Grant. Spanning across the world map, from A to Z, they include: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, China, Ecuador, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Nepal, Palestine, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Sweden, UK and Zambia.

Now in its seventh year, the ATLAS PhD Grant relies upon private contributions under the framework of the CERN & Society Foundation. Two of this year’s recipients were supported by Bank Lombard Odier & Co., building upon a partnership that began in 2019 to support six ATLAS doctoral students over a three-year period.

During the ceremony, the newest grant recipients were presented with certificates by Peter Jenni, who is also Deputy-Chair of the CERN & Society Foundation, and Alexandre Zeller, Managing Partner of Lombard Odier. Prajita Bhattarai, Hassnae El Jarrari and Albert Kong each gave a short speech of thanks, extracts of which can be read below. You can also watch a recording of the full ceremony, broadcast live on Periscope for the first time this year.

Prajita Bhattarai (Brandeis University, USA)

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Prajita Bhattarai. (Image: S. E. Bennett/CERN)

I’m honoured to be given this incredible opportunity, which will impact my career in ways I could have only dreamed of. I spent last summer at CERN working on my first physics measurement. During those three months, I learned a lot working closely with the analysis team. While I continued my work at my home institution in Boston, not being in close contact with the analysis team made it much more difficult. This is why I am extremely excited to get this grant and spend one full year at CERN, learning at a pace that would otherwise be impossible. I will focus on my thesis topic, measuring Higgs-boson decays into four-lepton final states. I really hope to see some events in this measurement coming from new physics beyond the Standard Model, because that would be very exciting.

Growing up, I was always fascinated by particle physics and researching at CERN was my lifelong dream. CERN is a special place to me, not only because of its fundamental research, but also because it is a place where people from all over the world, from many different backgrounds, come together to work towards a common goal. Being myself from a developing country and a non-member state [Nepal], I thought it would be impossible for me to work here. But the ATLAS PhD Grant has made this possible, helping me to fully achieve my career potential. For this, I will always be grateful to the donors, to the selection committee and to my advisor.

Albert Kong (University of Adelaide, Australia)

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Albert Kong. (Image: S. E. Bennett/CERN)

A year ago, I would never have dreamed that I’d have the opportunity to come to CERN – let alone stay for an entire year. I’m from Australia, one of the most distant nations to be part of CERN’s scientific programme. I’ve always dreamed of making a grand and lasting contribution to science, but I had little idea what this contribution would be like or how to achieve it. Now, however, as a member of the ATLAS Collaboration and a recipient of the ATLAS PhD Grant, I can see that I am much closer to perhaps achieving this dream.

My interests lie in the development and optimisation of high-performance algorithms – an interest that aligns closely with the jet software team of the ATLAS Collaboration, which I will soon be joining. My project with them may involve the use of cutting-edge technologies – such as machine learning and artificial intelligence – which are already in use in the reconstruction of jets, one of the most complicated, messy objects in the detector. Of course, I do not have much experience in this subject area; the expertise and mentorship available here at CERN will be invaluable to my project. For giving me this opportunity, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to Lombard Odier and the CERN & Society Foundation – not just for me, but for the generations of future students to come.

Hassnae El Jarrari (University Mohammed V Rabat, Morocco, and Academia Sinica Taipei, Taiwan)

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Hassnae El Jarrari. (Image: S. E. Bennett/CERN)

My interest in physics developed over the years, starting with an early fascination with the wonders of the sky before turning to more complex questions about our Universe. The more I learned, the more questions I had – until I studied particle physics. Suddenly, the picture of our Universe, starting from an energy burst and evolving over time to how we see it today, became clear.

I started my PhD at the University Mohammed V in Rabat, where there was already an established ATLAS group. You can only imagine my excitement when I started learning about the vast research programme of the LHC and ATLAS. For my PhD, I am working on dark photon searches, which could give us some answers about the nature of dark matter. I am also involved in the development of a new silicon-based detector for the HL-LHC upgrade. Given the complexity of the ATLAS detector and the huge amount of data it collects, a crucial part of my PhD is directly related to high-performance computing and to software development. During my stay at CERN, I will be implementing machine-learning techniques in my data analysis to more efficiently search for rare phenomena.

My sincerest thanks to Fabiola Gianotti and Peter Jenni for creating this grant, to Lombard Odier for their generous donations, and to the CERN & Society Foundation. I hope the ATLAS PhD Grant programme will continue, so that upcoming generations can benefit from the solid working environment of CERN. I am honoured to receive your support and I will do my best to fulfil the vision of this grant.