The Experience Of An Internship At CERN

During my internship at CERN, I was welcomed into a team working on Data Preservation and the Open Access project on the CMS experiment. CERN, the acronym for European Council for Nuclear Research, is a research organism based in outskirts of Geneva, Switzerland, and was established in 1954 with will to unite nations again after WWII and increase scientific collaboration. To this date, CERN is collaborating with and funded by 23 member states and provides world class technology for research in particle physics. Notable discoveries claimed in CERN include the detection of the Higgs boson as well as the invention of the world wide web back in 1989.

The CMS Experiment

The CMS experiment, acronym for compact muon solenoid, is a detector sitting at one of the four particle collision points on the 27 km long LHC (large hadron collider, accelerating
protons in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light and making them collide). Its main purpose is to detect the particles produced in collision as they enter a magnetic field (mostly unstable ones) and measure their momenta and energies to recreate virtual images of the collisions and generate extremely large data sets for further analysis.

CMS experiment at CERN
The CMS detector

CMS, among other experiments, generates around 600 MB/s of data, on which a consequent amount of analysis is done, therefore in its years of activity CERN has produced quantities of valuable data and hence faces the challenge of preserving its digital memory through, among other ways, publishing particle physics data from the CMS on the CERN open data portal, giving open access, around three years after data collection, of CMS data to researchers outside of CERN as well as providing it in formats which are accessible for education.

Open Data Portal

Internship at CERN - Open data portal
The Open Data Portal

The Open Data Portal is a project launched by CERN in line with their Open Source philosophy to enable scientific collaboration and open access to a large amount of raw and processed data generated by experiments at CERN. This portal has the aim to provide datasets in varying levels of complexity to scientists and students around world.

Other than abiding to their mission of collaboration in science and openness, the Open Data portal represents a milestone in assuring data preservation by ensuring that the potential of the data produced by CERN and its experiments can be optimized by serving researchers around the world for as long as possible.

Also watch: What is Higgs boson and why is it called the God particle?

How Did I Contribute To This?

My work with respect to the data generated by the CMS experiment was to collaborate with summer students who’s task was, as part of data preservation and the use of CMS open data in education, to modify and develop course material for high school students using CMS open data, I therefore first had to learn how to use the data analysis tools and reported on the existing course material and how they could make it more accessible / suitable for students at a high school level, so that we could then bring the necessary reforms and changes to the material.

The Experience of An Internship At CERN 2
I clicked this image during my internship at CERN (Image: Anja Sjöström)

My Experience

Arriving at CERN, what struck me first, was the size and extent of the facilities as well as the crowd and organisation / variety of people contributing to making progress at CERN a success, ranging from the theoretical and experimental physicist to the technical or software engineers, and the committees in charge of international collaboration and funding, and much more.

The variety of fields of expertise that collaborated together were reflected in the wide range of facilities spread across several sites and locations amongst which figured technical sites, laboratories, offices, headquarters and more… In addition, CERN does not reflect high percentages of direct local employees but rather collaborates with international research facilities and universities from which CERN mandates scientists.

More in particle physics:
Understanding the Feynman diagrams
An introduction to the standard model of physics
Large Hadron Collider as the world’s first time machine

As such, the vast community of employees and broadness of the fields impacted my
experience during the internship at CERN. Notably, one aspect is the fact that you are constantly leaning something new, needing to adapt to others, however the right people will always be eager to help you progress and find ways to understand. Something I equally appreciated, the mutual aid which everyone brought to the others making each and everyone grow as a person and learn more every day.

What Can We Take From CERN?

CERN logo

The vastness and excellence of CERN, may be seen as overwhelming or else thoroughly
insightful but what it does teach is flexibility and openness through collaboration. In a job at CERN, fitting qualities that I have been able to observe are humility, the ability to learn, open yourself to other and give evidence of a certain transparency.

CERN tackles problems at the cutting edge of nuclear physics and attempts to find experimental solutions to theoretical predictions. One implication of this is the high level of abstraction as well as the perseverance necessary in order to yield results. In an environment, where each team and each project is willing to push its aims to produce the most favorable conditions for their work, it is important to strive for excellence as well as demonstrate a passion for what you do.

You can contact Anja Sjöström at

Also read: All the articles of Basics of Astrophysics series

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