A summer for science
8 September 2023 | By
For many students, a summer internship is a rite of passage — and a gateway to future jobs. Looking for a valuable glimpse into what a future in physics might hold, dozens of university students from around the world headed to CERN to participate in the Summer Student Programme and engage with cutting-edge scientific research at the ATLAS Experiment. With the support of their supervisors, these students have been deepening their knowledge of particle physics, engineering and computing through challenging projects.
These are the stories of 12 of these students.
Hiba Khey (Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique) and Huacheng Cai (University of Pittsburgh)
“I was nervous to face this experience because this is my first time abroad,” says Hiba, a data science student, “but everyone has been kind and friendly. I really appreciated it.”
This summer, Hiba has been splitting her time between lectures and coding. “I really appreciated attending the particle physics lectures for summer students,” says Hiba. “They helped me to understand the physics behind the ATLAS detector, which was really helpful since I’m developing a web-based interface for the Liquid Argon Calorimeter upgrade.”
“Our plan is to rely on Hiba’s web application for the next few years,” explains Huacheng, her supervisor. “It's a small project, but quite impactful. So I think this is exciting and a very rare opportunity for a summer student.”
Angelica Aira (University of the Philippines Diliman) and Sukanya Sinha (The University of Manchester)
“Years ago, my only goal in life was to have money to come to CERN as a tourist,” says Angelica. “Back then, it seemed impossible that I would ever have the opportunity to work here.”
Well, the impossible happened, and Angelica is spending her summer looking at different semi-visible jet signal models, trying to help ATLAS narrow down their signal. “I love the project and my team. It is a safe environment to learn; I feel I can ask anything and no one will judge me,” she explains.
Fostering a good work environment for students is one of Sukanya's goals as a supervisor: “Since it is a short period of time, you focus all your energy on helping the students have a great experience.”
Paramott Bunnjaweht (Chulalongkorn University) and Nello Bruscino (INFN Roma)
“This is my first time in Europe, and I’m loving the experience. The environment is lovely, and people are really nice,” says Paramott.
Paramott is studying physics, but he has been fascinated with machine learning. When he discovered that the Summer Student Programme had opportunities beyond particle physics, he decided to seek out a machine learning project. At ATLAS, he has been working on the development and deployment of new machine learning algorithms in neural networks in the context of physics.
“A summer project never ends the way it started,” says Nello, his supervisor. “It is an opportunity to exchange knowledge. Of course, we, the supervisors, have a bit more experience, but with this interaction, together we are finding new ways to achieve the intended result. Which makes the experience very enriching for both.”
Rintaro Okazaki (Kyoto University) and Abhishek Sharma (CERN)
“Back home, at my University, we talked a lot about what was going on at CERN — I wanted to come here and see it for myself. I wanted to know what the working atmosphere was like,” says Rintaro.
As part of the team developing the ATLAS ITk Pixel Detector upgrade, Rintaro has been clocking in hours in clean rooms. “I was surprised and impressed with all the safety procedures that we have to follow,” he explains. “They make me realise where I am and the importance of the work we are doing.”
For his supervisor, Abhishek, this is his seventh year as a supervisor in the Summer Student Programme: “We are always so focused on our everyday work, so engaging with students is an opportunity to look at the big picture again. When we do that, we can trigger new ideas.”
Giorgio Stucchi (University of Milan) and Valentina Cairo (CERN)
“I was really looking forward to trying out this international work environment. For me, the best part of this experience has been making connections and friendships with other summer students,” says Giorgio.
Of course, Giorgio is not here only to make new friends; he is also looking for very rare physics processes which occur as 1 in about a trillion proton-proton collisions. Together with Valentina, his supervisor, he has been analysing data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) Runs 2 and 3, searching for events with a pair of Higgs bosons. In this way, they will probe the Higgs self-coupling and its connection to the stability of the Universe.
“The beauty of working on new projects with students is that we are learning together; there is no prior bias,” explains Valentina, who knows the Summer Student Programme well. “I was a summer student ten years ago. That was how it all started for me. Having been on his side helps me to help him.”
Raiqa Rasool (Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences) and Aleksandra Poreba (CERN/Heidelberg University)
"I was initially anxious about moving to a different country for the first time, but the support I received from CERN made everything a lot easier,” says Raiqa. “I had never been part of such a diverse environment, and the people I’ve met have helped me feel comfortable being my true self and enabled me to explore new interests. This has been a truly remarkable and unforgettable experience."
Raiqa is working on a dashboard for the ATLAS Trigger Operation team. “This will help ATLAS experts compare data in an easier and faster way,” explains Aleksandra, her supervisor.
This is Aleksandra’s first time as a summer student supervisor, and she is enjoying the experience: “It’s a chance to share what we are doing here. For three months, students have the full CERN experience and then, based on that, they can decide what they want to do next.”
Zhiyuan Huang (Wuhan University) and Marcella Bona (University of London)
Zhiyuan, together with her supervisor Marcella, is searching for dark matter production at the LHC by looking into semi-visible jets. “This spray of particles has a very difficult signature because they aren’t completely visible, so Zhiyuan is trying to identify those signals using statistics tools,” explains Marcella.
“I wanted to have practical experience in physics before starting my PhD this fall,” says Zhiyuan. “I find dark matter research very interesting, so I'm excited to have an active role in this project.”
“I've worked with several summer students over the years, and every one of them has been exceptional,” says Marcella. “Even with limited experience, they often bring new ideas — they’re a breath of fresh air during the summer.”
Anton Taleiko (University of Helsinki) and Andreas Salzburger (CERN)
For Anton, being a summer student gave him the opportunity to visit places he already knew. “I visited CERN during a high school trip. I remember being overwhelmed with the infrastructure and looking forward to coming back and working here,” he explains.
Of course, this is not just a walk down memory lane for Anton. As a computer science student, he is spending his summer working on a new programme to estimate the lifetime of particle detectors.
His supervisor, Andreas, was also a summer student: “I’ve been a supervisor for 15 years. In a way, this is the ‘circle of CERN’ — give back what you got. I had a great experience as a summer student; why not give that kind of opportunity to others?”
Sarhana Adhikari (New York University), Melissa Aguiar (Brazilian Synchrotron Light Laboratory) and Marcos Oliveira (Brookhaven National Laboratory)
“I didn’t know what project I would get when I applied, it just seemed like it would be really fun to be at CERN during the summer,” says Sarhana.
In addition to the fun (which was guaranteed!), Sarhana joined Melissa — an ATLAS and Federal University of Juiz de Fora Master’s student — and applied her knowledge in electronics engineering to the design of a new firmware architecture for the ATLAS Liquid Argon Calorimeter trigger. “Our projects are complementary, so it was nice to have someone around to discuss ideas with,” says Melissa.
“This programme is often the first opportunity for students to have a professional experience,” explains Marcos, their supervisor. “For Sarhana, for example, this is her first time in a production environment. It’s an important experience that will help her make informed decisions about her career.”
Sarah MacHarg (Stanford University) and Aimilianos Koulouris (CERN)
“I'm doing a double major in physics and political science and CERN allowed me to explore the best of both worlds: physics research and an international working environment,” shares Sarah. “People here are really willing to share about their projects. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by that.”
Sarah joined the ATLAS Level-1 Central Trigger team during the summer, working on dead-time simulation.
“The tools she’s developing are something that we really need, so we are looking forward to having the actual product in such a short period of time,” says Aimilianos, her supervisor, who was also a summer student ten years ago. “I had a great time, which is why I wanted to provide her with the best possible experience.”
Titanilla Braun (The University of Manchester), Dilia Portillo (TRIUMF) and Reina Camacho Toro (CNRS)
“I always wanted to come here at some point. I mean, who doesn't want to work at CERN?” says Titanilla, a physics student. She fulfilled her wish, and has been testing the impact of a new type of jet reconstruction model on the di-Higgs production search. “Doing this kind of research is so different from when I’m in a classroom learning physics. Here I am looking at real data, doing analysis and developing simulations.”
“These are the kinds of practical experiences that you can’t have in a classroom,” says Dilia, who’s been one of her mentors.
For Reina, this is her first time taking on the role of summer student supervisor, and has already become an advocate for the programme: "This is an excellent opportunity for the students to gain valuable experience in a hands-on learning environment.”
Fran Cassinese (National University of Rosario) and Francisco Alonso (National University of La Plata)
“I've learned a lot! Now, the next step for me will be a PhD,” says Fran. “I’m already looking into opportunities to come back here in the future.”
Fran is spending their summer identifying and isolating objects misidentified as photons — these ‘fake photons’ constitute the main background for prompt photon production.
“We tried to find a project that would be achievable in two months and that, at the same time, would give them the opportunity to learn,” explains Francisco, their supervisor. “They already had the chance to present their work in our ATLAS group meeting, which is a great challenge for a summer student.”
Meet the students
Join us on a linguistic journey as this 12 summer students from different corners of the world say 'hi' in their native languages!