by Giles Strong

Bonjour! As I write, I’m three weeks into my month long secondment at CERN, near Geneva. CERN, home to the Large Hadron Collider, is the world’s largest particle-physics research centre. It is also the location of the CMS experiment, which I work on.

My stay here was primarily to meet and work with several researchers who are performing the same analysis as me, but whom I have yet to meet face to face. Unfortunately, it turned out that the majority of them travelled away from CERN the day I arrived. However, we’ll all be meeting up at a workshop in Paris this April, so it’s not so bad, and luckily there were two researchers still here, so I was able to talk with them a bit.

Nonetheless, I’ve been focussing on advancing the state of my analysis, which had kind of been on hold due to me working on some new algorithms for one of the physics-object groups in CMS. It seems to be coming along nicely, but I am still unsure exactly how to proceed in terms of combining my approach with the rest of the analysis group; I’m a newcomer to the group looking to incorporate some tools I developed outside of the ‘official’ search. Hopefully after the meeting in April, I’ll have a clearer picture.

CERN itself is an interesting place. I’ve been living in the hostel on the campus and have been able to get a good feel for how it changes during the day. With the LHC currently shutdown, the campus has been very busy with members of the public coming to visit and look around the various experiments. Similarly, researchers are constantly arriving and leaving throughout the day, and waiting for the airport shuttle bus.

Despite being only half an hour by direct tram to the centre of Geneva, it seems to be very isolated here. The city can’t be seen from the campus, instead there is a great long mountain range. The restaurants here are comparatively cheap and the food is fairly good; whilst I’d been prepared to cook for myself, the are no grocery stores within walking distance and in the end I decided that I’d spend the time progressing on my analysis. Indeed, with very few distractions on campus, the atmosphere is quite work-inducive.

The isolation isn’t limited just to the location, but also to the feel of the place. It’s very common to go into the main restaurant and see many tables of people eating alone. I guess with everyone working on different schedules, some even working night shifts on the detectors, this is kind of inevitable, but I also get the sense that one has to arrive at CERN knowing other people.

Luckily for me there are three other researchers from this network, but I think what is missing for others is some way to welcome newcomers and help them feel at home. Perhaps occasional activities, or even just a dedicated table at lunch for new people to meet each other. Perhaps something like this already exists, and I simply missed it. There is a Young@CERN group which organised a get-together to celebrate its 10th anniversary, but otherwise it seems to mostly be online for accommodation recommendations and selling stuff (although I have just seen that they’ve organised a snowball fight for this afternoon).

Speaking of snow, it’s snowing!! We had -10 °C the other day and for the past two days it’s a bit warmer, but the snow still keeps coming. As someone who prefers cold weather to hot (and yet somehow ended up living in Portugal), this makes me very happy.

Overall, it’s been a good stay and I still have another week to go. Spending time with Alessia, Alex, and Anna has also been fun; visiting Geneva for fondue, and attempting to see some newly released films (guess who got the wrong tram and saw the wrong film, which was dubbed in the wrong language…).

Tomorrow evening I’ll be participating in a video meeting with various high schools around the world who will have spent the day ‘working as particle physicists’. Hopefully one day some of them might also be spending time here.

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