Supporting talented students with the ATLAS PhD Grant

4 May 2021 | By

The 2021 ATLAS PhD Grant award ceremony. From left to right: (top) Peter Jenni, Richa Nevatia and Matteo Castoldi; (middle) Alexandre Zeller, Humphry Tlou and Ana Luisa Carvalho; (bottom) Charlotte Warakaulle, Josefina Alconada and Mihai Nasulea. (Image: CERN)

On 13 April 2021, the recipients of this year's ATLAS PhD Grant were celebrated in an online ceremony. These talented and motivated students will receive 1.5 years of funding for their studies at CERN, giving them the opportunity to enhance their doctoral studies in a one-of-a-kind research environment.

The ATLAS PhD Grant is a flagship programme of the CERN & Society Foundation. It was established in 2013 by former ATLAS spokespersons Fabiola Gianotti and Peter Jenni, using their award money from the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. In 2014, the first batch of students began their grant periods. Now in its eighth year, the ATLAS PhD Grant relies on private contributions through the CERN & Society Foundation to continue its legacy. The 2021 ATLAS PhD Grant is supported by Bank Lombard Odier & Co., who continue their partnership with the programme for a third year.

Due to the ongoing global pandemic, this year’s award ceremony was broadcast live on Facebook and LinkedIn, with CERN & Society donors and members of CERN management joining in remotely. The recipients of the 2021 ATLAS PhD Grant were announced as Ana Luisa Carvalho (LIP, Portugal) and Humphry Tlou (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa). They will carry out their PhD studies under the supervision and training of ATLAS Collaboration experts, spending a total of 18 months at CERN over a period of three years.

“When Fabiola Gianotti and I received the Fundamental Physics Prize, it was clear to us that we wanted to give something back to ATLAS,” said Peter Jenni, speaking at the event. “We remembered our own time as students at CERN and wanted to give others the same opportunity. CERN is a great learning environment – not just for physics, but to experience working closely with people from different countries and cultures.”

Since its establishment, the ATLAS PhD Grant has supported 20 students of 17 nationalities, reflecting the international character of CERN and the ATLAS Collaboration.

Since its establishment, the ATLAS PhD Grant has supported 20 students of 17 nationalities*, reflecting the international character of CERN and the ATLAS Collaboration. Former students also participated in the online award ceremony, sharing their experiences and reflecting upon the opportunities they’ve enjoyed because of their time at CERN.

Charlotte Warakaulle, CERN Director for International Relations, echoed this sentiment in welcoming the students. “This is the beginning of a unique scientific journey for you,” she said. “And we also hope it is the start of a lifelong attachment to CERN, and to our core values of openness, diversity and excellence.”

Ana Luisa Carvalho and Humphry Tlou each gave a short speech of thanks, extracts of which can be read below. You can also watch a recording of the full ceremony or visit the CERN & Society website to learn more about the ATLAS PhD Grant.

Ana Luisa Carvalho (LIP, Portugal)


Being at CERN and working as a particle physicist has long been a dream of mine. Now I’m able to look at my life today and see that I'm doing something that a few years ago I could only imagine. This is really very important to me and I cannot thank the supporters of the ATLAS PhD Grant enough.

Spending time at CERN as a student is an invaluable experience, as we benefit from this exciting environment. But I think that this grant also shows how CERN, and in particular the ATLAS collaboration, really benefits from the hard work and the ideas of students. I'm very thankful for the continued support of the grant, as it gives recognition to the difficult and important work that students do.

Part of my PhD will be dedicated to analysing the data that comes out of the LHC. I'm currently studying the properties of the Higgs boson, examining the way it interacts with top quarks. I am also participating in the operation of the ATLAS detector; in particular, I work on the trigger system, which allows us to record in real time the collisions that happen at the LHC.

Just a couple of weeks ago, benefiting from the fact that I am here at CERN, I got to go to the ATLAS control room and actually see the detector working. That such a huge, complicated detector manages to work so well is something that will never cease to amaze me. In the control room, I was given the opportunity to learn how to look after our detector and make sure that everything works correctly. I'm very, very happy to be at CERN, and am honoured to join the list of recipients of such a prestigious grant.

Humphrey Tlou (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa)


When the news about the discovery of the Higgs boson first came out in 2012, I was already in my first year at university. That's when I developed an interest in high-energy particle physics. At that time, I was studying nuclear sciences and engineering. In my final year, I chose a physics project to work on, and that turned out to be the first ATLAS project I've worked on. The love grew stronger and here I am now: a PhD student from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

My PhD thesis is a combination of detector work and physics analysis. I am involved with the Tile Calorimeter group, which is a sub-detector of ATLAS, and I mainly contribute to the upgrade, development and management of the data-acquisition software. This work allows us to operate the detector and collect data for physics analysis.

The discovery of the Standard Model Higgs boson has posed questions as to whether or not there is new physics beyond the Standard Model. The physics analysis that I'm working on mainly focuses on the search for a new heavy boson. This new boson would be much heavier than the Higgs boson and would be produced through the gluon–gluon fusion, decaying into a four-lepton final state in association with missing transverse energy.

Along with my family and supervisors, I'd like to thank Lombard Odier and the CERN & Society Foundation for the ATLAS PhD Grant – not forgetting Peter and Fabiola for initiating this programme. It feels so great to work with the diverse community here at CERN. I've learned a lot throughout my past few years with ATLAS, and I continue to learn and grow.

* The 17 nationalities of ATLAS PhD Grant recipients so far: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, China, Ecuador, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Zambia.