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CERN | Geneva | Switzerland

View Blog | Read Bio

Internship at CERN as seen from both sides

Gautier Crépin-Leblond, a 13-and-a-half year old high school student who came to CERN as an intern to fulfil his school internship requirement. He is studying in a French high school, Sainte-Ursule de Riedisheim. He has three days to discover what is happening at CERN. As I had the chance to supervise him for part of the afternoon, we thought of writing a blog together. His interest and determination were striking, so we took him on-board, even though CERN cannot unfortunately accommodate all requests for internships given the sheer number of applications.

What do these internships bring us, both as intern and supervisor? Gautier says, “Lots of information, both for my future career and at a scientific level”. As for myself, this internship provided the opportunity to rediscover CERN through fresh eyes and meet a highly motivated young person interested in scientific matters.

Gautier wants to be an astrophysicist and work at CERN as a theorist. Yesterday, he joined a tour organized for a Swiss writer looking for inspiration. He went first to the ATLAS control room (no problem with a visit conducted in German since he is Alsacian) then visited the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) control room. “I was surprised to see so few women there, only two for about 15 men. In school, they told us women were more qualified than men”, said Gautier. Nice to see that even young boys do notice nowadays but in fact, one usually sees more women there.

Next stop: the AD hall (Antiproton Decelerator) where several experimental teams are currently trying to produce antimatter. Gautier told me his impressions, “Rather rustic, like hay-wire setups, with aluminium foil everywhere and kilometres of wires. Very different from all the other places I visited”. Then he passed by the large hall where magnets are being tested. “Very impressive but also very noisy”, he said.

This morning, he visited the Globe of Science and Innovation, where a public exhibition is held on the world of particles. “Very nice, no long panels to read but instead they had interactive displays”.

In the afternoon, we talked about dark matter and how to detect Higgs bosons if they were to decay into a pair of particles invisible to our detectors.

Gautier got hooked to astrophysics ever since he received a book on astronomy when he was in kindergarten.  One thing leading to the next, we talked about the moon and the incredible stock of helium 3 it contains. A quick search on Wikipedia revealed that a ton of helium 3 would suffice to produce the annual Earth’s needs in energy through nuclear fusion, a process void of nuclear wastes. He was stunned to hear that my colleague, Marcelle Rey-Campagnolle had manipulated and analysed a few grams of lunar stones in Orsay brought back by the Apollo mission (me too!)

In short, we both learned new things, about each other and the moon while staying grounded, although Gautier was slightly floating, his eyes and head full of all he had seen so far.

Education is one of the missions of CERN, which is why young people of all ages come here to learn about the research being conducted in the laboratory and the various techniques used. CERN welcomes about 300 young people like Gautier every year coming from high schools for discovery internships. During the summer, more than 250 university-level students participate in the Summer Student Programme for two to three months where they attend lectures in the morning and contribute to the research programme in the afternoon.

Throughout the year, CERN also opens its doors to some 170 technical and doctoral students. This comes on top of the 3000 doctoral students working on the various LHC experiments and sent here by their home universities from 69 different countries. High school teachers also benefit from a special training program. Of course, one can come and work at CERN.

For those just curious to visit CERN, guided visits are organised for groups and individuals. In 2013, CERN will also host an Open Day during the weekend of September 28-29 where the public will be able to visit the whole site. Interested? Then mark your calendar!

Gautier Crépin-Leblond and Pauline Gagnon.

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