CERN: Harsh Kabra

827 Views, Posted on: July 18, 2015

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Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire or CERN (or the birthplace of the God particle as known to most of you) is quite arguably the top institution for research in physics, particularly nuclear and particle physics. Getting an internship at CERN is really difficult, even for the brightest brains in the world, and India not being a member state at CERN, makes it even more difficult for us. I have been interested in nuclear physics right from my childhood. Tiny little particles colliding with each other to give huge amount of energy made me curious to actually understand the science behind this. Meanwhile, I was lucky enough to do an internship in experimental particle physics at Osaka University just after my second year. This was followed by the Honda Young Scientist Award Competition in which I connected nuclear fusion reactor technology with power plant projects and actually won the award. Experience in nuclear physics plus a good recommendation from my professor meant that I could meet all the criteria for getting an internship at CERN. So it was easy in process but difficult in selection, as I got a pretty late reply from them.

The beginning at CERN
CERN is the place where the almighty World Wide Web was created. Apart from that, there have been a lot of scientific breakthroughs like the Higgs Boson, aka the God particle ,and many engineering marvels such as the various remarkable detectors- ATLAS, CMS, and ALICE which are up and running. Their value would be in billions of dollars with efforts put in by over a hundred thousand people from a hundred different countries from all over the world, making it truly remarkable. The LHC (Large Hadron Collider), the largest particle accelerator, sits underground, about a hundred metres below with a massive 27 km circumference, with great perfection and accuracy for keeping the beam width to the order of microns.


I was super excited to come to CERN and the beginning itself was amazing as I hovered over the Alps, imagining the mountain ranges covered with snow as a huge pool of cookie and cream flavoured ice-cream. Geneva, as everyone knows, is one of the costliest places to live in. I landed in Geneva and had a long weekend holiday that week. Hence, I could not visit CERN properly, and the excitement was turned off. But, to revive the joy I went to Marseille, a city in the south coast of France, just to explore and enjoy the Mediterranean coast.

Accommodation and Food

I had gotten my confirmation for CERN a bit late, so I had to hurry for the bookings for my accommodation at the CERN Hostel. I would have bothered the hostel workers about a hundred times in order to get my booking done properly with an entire overview of the facilities provided. It is a must to be minimalistic when living abroad. It’s important to properly plan all the things you must take along with you to ensure there are no hassles later on. For daily commuting, we had this wonderful free facility to rent a bike at CERN. That saved a lot of time in buying groceries from nearby stores and commuting between hostel and CERN.

CERN is on the Swiss-French border. It would be a bragging statement to make, but I lived in France and worked in Switzerland and have crossed the border a thousand times! Well, this was the best thing to happen as France is cheap to live and Switzerland is the best to enjoy life and nature.

Being a vegetarian could be a problem in Japan but not in Europe as there are many who are turning into vegans, so there are a lot more options now. My generic dinner used to be pasta/pizza along with juice or milk and then puddings for dessert. Not to forget the famous Swiss chocolates which I had every now and then. I loved the baguette, the French bread, which is a bit harder than a normal loaf, but has its authentic texture and taste. I didn’t miss Indian food much :P.

Work at CERN

I was working with the ATLAS, Inner Detector Group, the PH-ADE-ID. My main task was to assist in many of the beam tests that were conducted and to handle the entire mechanical setup for it.
The basic idea is that, the LHC is being upgraded and this summer the energy of the proton beam was increased from 8 TeV to 13 TeV. Due to this, the detectors need to be upgraded too, in order to sustain the high energy radiation damage. There are proposals of many new materials like diamond, HVCMOS (High Voltage CMOS), etc. that can be used. In the beam test we check the efficiency of these materials and then, after considering various parameters, decide the most apt material to be put in the detectors.

The beam test is carried out with the help of a telescope (that’s what they call it). It is basically a particle tracker which would help us know the track of the particle and then we keep the material to be tested (DUT, device under test) in between the telescope and check the detection done by it.
I also did a bit of coding work which involved data reconstruction of the test beam. Basically, re-creating the track of the particle.

Travelling around the place
I love travelling. In fact, one of the pros in favour of my wanting to do research is to be able to roam around the world and explore new places, people and cultures. As already mentioned, I went to Marseille on the day I landed in Geneva; clearly indicating my craze for travelling. I went to almost all the important places in Switzerland which are Lausanne, Bern, Interlaken, Lucerne, Zurich and Basel. I also touched the black forest in Germany. Hiking up the Jura was an amazing but tiring experience. Of course, going to Mt. Titlis with my junior CS friends was the best. In France, I went to the Paris, and Lyon too. I would say the best transport system of all was in Paris, as it is so well connected and moreover the easiest for tourists.


Switzerland is a package of various types of mountains from totally green to totally white and a lot of freshwater lakes, along with a variety of cows and chocolates too! The cruises here are so very relaxing and depict the luxurious lives that the people here have. Visiting the chocolate factory with unlimited chocolate tasting would attract anyone. The cheese factory visit was quite informative and made me realise that patience creates the best out of anything.

France also has its own charm. It was a different experience to travel in le TGV (Train de Grande Vitesse) the high speed French trains. Of course, France being less expensive, it encouraged me to experiment more with the local food and culture. Living amidst the Jura ranges, I saw scenes, as beautiful as paintings (worth fortunes!) every single day.

The city of Geneva

Most of the people in the world wouldn’t like Geneva for several reasons; because it’s too expensive, too much diverse, etc. In these two and a half months, I fell in love with this city. The lake is so beautiful and clean. The old town is well-planned with old but amazing architectural structures and parks almost everywhere. The best part was Friday evenings, where everyone gets free from work and spends the evening with friends and families near the lake. The people here have no rush in life, unlike Bombay. At times, I used to get frustrated but then realised that efficiency is not just how much you do something but also how you do it! The people here are really modern and they are quite open in terms of showcasing their emotions and they talk not just with words but with expressions on their face too.

“Success in life comes when you simply refuse to give up, with goals so strong, that obstacles, failure and loss only act as a motivation”