Note: This blog post about Rabia Aslam's summer internship at CERN might be a great way for many potential or current Physics majors to think about what they might want to do next summer. We hope you enjoy the read and don't forget to leave feedback below!
I recently did a summer internship at CERN and this article is about sharing that experience. I am a Physics Major and in my senior year now at LUMS SSE. What actually brings me to Physics is my curiosity about the universe. Physics seems to be unveiling the mysteries of the universe by answering the questions mankind always wonders about. I always knew Physics was the only right choice for me and that passion and love for Physics (and recommendations from instructors of course) took me to CERN; a physicist’s dream world. Being a summer student at CERN was an honor for me, an achievement I will always take pride in telling.
If I formally introduce CERN to you, it is European Organization for Nuclear Research, situated on the Franco-Swiss border with 20 European member states and is famous for having the largest and highest-energy particle accelerator known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC tunnel which is 27km in circumference and as deep as 175 meters, is designed to collide particles at a very high energy and is expected to answer some big and most fundamental questions of Physics including interactions and forces among elementary objects, structure of space and time, Higgs mechanism of generating elementary particle masses, extra dimensions, supersymmetry, nature of dark matter and facts about early universe and big bang. What could be more exciting than being a part of the setup answering such enormous questions of the universe?
The first thing I realized upon reaching CERN was that perhaps half of the world was represented there. You could find everyone from all around the globe there. CERN is very multi-cultural and the summer student family was really great with a diverse combination of engineers, computer scientists and physicists from all around the globe. I worked in ALICE (A Large Io Collider Experiment), one of the six detectors at LHC. The other five being ATLAS (A toroidal LHC apparatus), CMS (compact muon Solenoid), LHCb (Large Hadron Collider beauty), TOTEM (Total Elastic and diffractive cross section Measurement)and LHCf (Large Hadron Collider forward). ALICE is a heavy-ion detector which collides lead-lead nuclei at a very high energy and studies quark-gluon plasma. The experiment also works for proton-proton collisions as well. I did my analysis work for Kaon-zero produced in proton-proton collision at 7TeV (Teraelectronvolts) energy. My work involved looking for some of its properties, verifying its mass and life time and showing its multiplicity dependence.
About the lecture series: each and every lecture was great. The interesting bit about them is that they made me change my future plans on a regular basis. The day we had this basic particle Physics lecture, I decided to pursue my further studies in Particle Physics and then come back to CERN again. Then we had this really interesting lecture on anti-matter so I planned to start making anti-matter. Then the series of lectures on Medical Physics started and in the evening I was looking for some universities with good programs in Bio-Physics.
We also had these guided tours to some of the experiments and detectors. It was wonderful to see the precision with which the apparatus was installed, the huge machinery weighing tons was lowered into the tunnels taking into account many other issues and constraints and the measurements had to be really exact to get the expected result. The enormous scale of the enterprise was astounding. And believe me: unless you see it up close, you just cannot fully appreciate the magnitude of the effort and the true achievement of the work.
Being at the border of France and Switzerland gave me the benefit of being at one of the best tourist spots in the world. So after strenuous work on week days, my weekends were all spent sight-seeing. This included the famous snow capped Alps and Jura mountains, mystic castles, serene lakes and the many landscapes of Switzerland - spectacular sights all in all with the world’s largest and most renowned museums and the Eiffel tower in Paris that mesmerizes absolutely everyone.
It felt enormously wonderful to be very close to the detectors I always saw in pictures and Youtube videos, to be around Nobel laureates I had only read about, to be in an awesome place like CERN. My internship was truly amazing: an experience worth sharing, knowledge worth gaining and fun worth having. I can say, without a doubt that these summers were the best summers of my life so far!