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James Doherty | Open University | United Kingdom

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Welcome to CERN baby!

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

I arrive into Geneva airport laden with a huge backpack (mostly full of pants), a guitar and enough technology to launch a small mission to Mars. I hop onto the Y-bus to CERN.

CERN’s main Meyrin site spans the Swiss/French border and is plonked in the midst of beautiful agricultural estates which nestle in the shadows of the Jura mountain range. The largest accelerators, such as the Large Hadron Collider, are buried deep beneath French farmland and so there are several CERN outposts dotted around in France too.

The Meyrin site is massive and appears haphazardly distributed on arrival. Buildings are numbered in the order in which they were built and Building 41 will be my home for the next two months.

CERN's Meyrin site.

CERN’s Meyrin site.

I  settle into my nice little hostel room and go exploring. The weather is beautiful, there’s the chance of a swim in the lake and I’m feeling relaxed.

Until Day 1, when I loiter along with a multitude of nervous-looking students outside the CERN hostel.

After the initial welcome and introductions from HR we head en masse to Building 55 to pick up our security cards.

The two hour wait in glorious sunshine affords an excellent opportunity to bond with my fellow students and I meet a lovely little crew from Denmark, Spain, Italy, Germany, Romania and Brazil – which gives you a sense of the diversity of nationalities at CERN.

I track down my Aussie summie office mate Josh and we cycle across the border on our standard issue CERN bikes to the Prévessin site, or the ‘North Area’, in France where we will be based for our research project.

CERN bikes.

CERN bikes.

On meeting our supervisor Ralph, Josh and I are immediately accompanied to the lab to commence soldering. Stay tuned for creative electronics…

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An unexpected collision

Sunday, July 14th, 2013

So here we go! I’ve finished my exams and after a week of camping and getting soggy in Wales I turn my attention to CERN.

I received an e-mail from my supervisor Ralph, an extremely clever and even more endearing German whom I met for lunch in London earlier in the year. The e-mail goes something like this:

“Hi James,

I’m sure you are already au fait with the following but just in case you should brush up on…”

Ralph then goes on to list several text books, loads of software and a few programming languages most of which I have never heard of. Reality hits that this summer is going to involve a lot of hard work and not just chillaxing on the banks of Lake Geneva.

So besides learning how to code, how accelerators work and what the heck a Fast Fourier Transform is, I will be packing pants. Why I hear you say?

Summies generally live in hostel accommodation on the CERN site. To avoid the trials and tribulations of communal kitchens and washing facilities I plan to eat big lunches in R1 (CERN’s really good canteen which serves cold beer) and avoid doing any clothes washing for as long a possible.

From university days I know the trick to the latter is to have many pairs of pants – so its going to be a good trading month for Marks and Spencer.

Science pants

Science pants

My other, less than ideal, bit of preparation this week was getting knocked off my bike at a big roundabout in Oxford. I am fine but my bike is a bit mangled. I was expecting lots of collisions this summer but not this sort!

The next post will be from CERN – wish me ‘bonne chance’.

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So what is the CERN Student Summer Programme?

Friday, July 12th, 2013

You may be wondering what the CERN Student Summer Programme is all about.

Each year CERN invites around 300 student physicists, engineers and computer scientists from across the globe to participate in its summer programme. The students attend a lecture series delivered by some of the world’s leading particle physicists and carry out a research project.

The programme offers students a taste of life at CERN and offers CERN the opportunity to earmark future talent.

The summer students, collectively known as “summies”, also enjoy an active social life with extensive exploration of Geneva’s night life  – I feel I can make a particularly valuable contribution to the programme on this front.

My research project will involve developing a system to analyse the beam in the Large Hadron Collider and, potentially, making a mini-accelerator. I’m well excited!

summer-students

A previous generation of summer students pose in front of the Globe – CERN’s showcase visitor centre.

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