Hello CERN

I am here at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Wait, CERN? Not EONR? It turns out that French becomes more popular when you approach the France border. If you are curious, you might come back and yell at me a Wikipedia page later, “But hey the French version is: ‘Organisation européenne pour la recherche nucléaire’, still not right!” Yes, you are totally right. And it also turns out the terminology with a historical root just sticks around, maybe for good reasons.

Anyways, thanks to the invitation from Professor Daniel Whiteson, I am able to have this amazing journey at CERN. It is my fourth week here, which roughly marks the midpoint. As the initial discomfort due to the lack of air conditioning and language barrier is fading away, I think I have enough time to dig out some of the deeper experience than the superficial impression I had about CERN.

People say that CERN looks like a university. I agree. It has a library, cafeteria, lecture halls and an unassumingly-looking 27-km (circumference) circular ring with perfect vacuum and a temperature of 1.9k, colder than the outer space. Just normal stuff you can find in a university. My life here is not unlike the one in a university, with 3 lectures in the morning and research in the afternoon.

Summer Student Lectures Are Great

An image of the lecture hall.

Although I am not a summer student, I totally enjoy the lectures! The lectures cover a wide range of topics from theoretical foundations to experimental techniques, from statistics to engineering challenges. The lectures are usually dense but excellent. In case you are interested, the recordings and slides are freely available for anyone. The lectures are sometimes so fast that I have to re-watch the video to fully grasp the idea. By the way, thank you, all the organizers and lecturers of the summer student programme. You did a great job!

The Library Has Every Physics Book In The World

An image of the library with a desk a two chairs.

I often find myself studying and doing research in the library in the afternoon. The library, despite its small size, has a large number of physics books. In case they don’t have the book you want, they will order it from other libraries. Also, you can find some programming books on the shelf. However, it seems that CERN didn’t keep up with the pace of some of the fast-evolving technology as you could find titles like “Programming in iOS6” or “MS-DOS Manual”.

What Am I Working On?

My research project is about electron identification, which is a fundamental piece for further analysis like precision measurement or the searching for new particles. The current state-of-the-art methods involve using many high level isolation variables such as the ratio of the transverse energy in electromagnetic calorimeter and hadron calorimeter. Since there might be more information hidden in the higher dimensional jet image dataset, we are trying to take advantage of neural networks to see if we could beat the state-of-the-art. I have generated all the dataset with Madgraph+Pythia+Delphes, which at its core is Monte Carlo Simulation, a very CPU intensive task that, in my case, took about 4 weeks to finish on a cluster. Now we are experimenting different neural networks. I am really looking forward to the results.

Visiting Underground Experiments Can Be Difficult

So the key is to find a group and an official guide who is willing to show you around. I am very fortunate to have Mr.Fredrik Van der Veken as my guide for two tours, one to CMS and the other to COMPASS. Fredrik is a really nice and cool guy working on theoretical physics. He somehow agreed and managed to guide 3 groups in one afternoon. What a legend. Apart from the tours above, I am lucky enough to join several other tours including: Antiproton Decelerator, Data Center, Synchrocyclotron (retired) and ATLAS Control Room. Thanks again, summer student programme! I decide to dedicate another post to all the experiments I visited. The Antiproton Decelerator is really cool!

I Helped CERN Go Viral On Hacker News

HN post image.

I have been submitting posts related to CERN that HN readers might find interesting since the start of my stay here. However, all of them seemed to go straight into the forgotten corner of the internet, receiving few upvotes and no discussion at all. Two days ago, I came across this informative post on CERN’s effort to migrate to open-source technologies. I found it pretty interesting and it also answered my question, “Why does CERN stick with an old version of outlook as the email provider?” So, as usual, I submitted this post on HN. Interestingly, I completely forgot about it until 20 hours later, when I was having lunch at R1, I was surprised to see it got 485 upvote and 136 comments! It just resonates with people. Many are really happy about CERN’s move and some others just took the opportunity to show their gratitude for the positive change that CERN has made on the development of KiCad.

CERN Is Truly an Amazing International Organization

Reading the comments on HN not only makes me happy, it also reminded me of a very particular feeling I have about CERN, a feeling that was not obvious to me at first. One day sitting in the lecture, I was amused to see that the students were asking the lecturer in a strong accent while the lecturer was responding in another strong accent. I don’t want to blame anyone for the bad English. The thing that stroke me on that day is the sacrifice and effort everyone at CERN made to work together towards some great things that no one has done before. People are just helping each other to understand the world better. I just couldn’t appreciate enough how much everyone at CERN has done to make all the collective effort from all over the world possible.

Also Many Great Mountains

With Alps just lying 1-hour driving away, there are some really great hiking trails nearby. I went to Le Brévent and enjoyed a really nice sunburn view of Mont Blanc. I will definitely explore more trails during my stay here!

Cover image by Ars Electronica / Claudia Schnugg. They have taken a lot of great photos at CERN!