A summer of particle physics

Three young physicists from the University of California at Riverside are thinking big. Gigantic-particle-great accelerator. Undergraduate students Andrew Caruso, Robert Vasquez and Selim Zoorob completed internships this summer at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN. The center is home to the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world.

The LHC, a circular tunnel with a circumference of 17 miles, smashes particles by firing two beams of them traveling in opposite directions through the tunnel. After several spins, the particles approach the speed of light and collide head-on, their debris giving physicists an opportunity to study the quantum world.

Andre Caruso. (UCR/Andrew Caruso)

Caruso, 22, was motivated to apply for the internship at CERN because he was interested in both experimental particle physics and a piece of software used at CERN called ROOT. After being offered the internship, he took a course in particle physics at UCR, which further piqued his interest in the field.

Having never been to Europe or pursued such an opportunity, Caruso had no idea how central daily life and work would be.

“I thought the work would be similar to what I did with the ROOT software in my undergraduate research in physics at UCR, and the daily life would be similar to that on campus,” he said. declared. “As I gained experience, I found that CERN exceeded those expectations. I ended up not using the ROOT software at all, but instead created a program using Python, a programming language.

Caruso discovered that CERN had a rich diversity of international students and offered him a range of opportunities in computer science and physics through workshops and conferences. He appreciates that CERN promotes communication between students and organizes extracurricular activities through clubs and events.

“It’s easy to find things to do and meet new people,” he said. “Furthermore, all students are CERN personnel and are treated as such. I was expected to work on my project and take advantage of learning and social opportunities.

The project that Caruso worked on at CERN is called “Model of NA62 CEDAR”.

“The NA62 experiment is a fixed-target experiment in which a beam of protons hits a fixed target and produces particles called kaons whose decays are studied,” he said.

Caruso believes his experience at CERN will enhance his interest and skills in the field of particle physics, which will ultimately benefit his career. In his spare time, he traveled to Geneva and places in or near Switzerland.

“It was a unique opportunity to not only engage in intriguing scientific research, but also to learn new topics and meet many people,” he said. “It’s amazing to work and talk with people from so many different backgrounds. Sure, sometimes there are language barriers, but it’s fun to learn other people’s languages ​​and cultures. It is also amazing how many people are part of CERN, since the sites are basically small towns with their own fire brigades, hostels, cafeterias, buses and medical centre. There are many people, not just scientists, who keep CERN running. »

Robert Vasquez
Robert Vasquez. (UCR/Robert Vasquez)

Basin, 27, a first-generation student, has always wanted to visit CERN for the work and research carried out there. But when he saw the internship application via the UCR Physics Undergraduate digital bulletin board, his first thought was not to apply.

“I thought I had no chance,” he said. “But my mum would have encouraged me to apply and after losing her to COVID-related complications last year, I thought it would be a good way to honor her memory.”

CERN exceeded Vasquez’s expectations in terms of the physical size of the facility and the research carried out there.

“What I’m most excited about at CERN is a facility called the ‘Antimatter Factory’, where they produce and experiment with antimatter, including studies of how it interacts with gravity,” said he declared.

For Vasquez, the benefit of working with an international team of scientists was learning how other countries differ from the United States in their approach to education, scientific interests, and culture.

The project he worked on focused on expanding the functionality of the AppLE.py program.

Vasquez explained that particle accelerators use magnets to change the direction and focus of particles moving through them. To know how these particles will behave when they pass through these magnets requires a set of equations that dictate the behavior. For a magnet and a particle, the calculations are relatively simple, but for several thousand particles passing through several magnets, the calculations can be long and tedious.

“A program called MAD-X has been developed to simulate the beams traveling through these magnets,” he said. “This program works but can be difficult to run for repeated simulations. To make things easier, a program called AppLE.py is being developed as a user-friendly GUI in Python. My job was to program additional features into the app to make the job easier for those who use these magnets. »

Vasquez thinks his experience at CERN stands out in his resume. He has already spoken to potential employers interested in considering his candidacy because of the CERN endorsement.

During his first trip to Europe and his first trip outside of the southwestern region of the United States, Vasquez took photography and took many photos in Zurich, Paris, Mont Blanc and other places.

To the student who hesitates to accept his type of internship, Vasquez offers words of encouragement.

“My mom would say the worst she can say to you is no,” he said. “Better to try and fail than to always wonder whether or not you could have gotten in. Even if you think you shouldn’t apply because your field isn’t primarily physics, there’s a place for you here. in terms of computer science, engineering, mathematics and other disciplines.

Selim Zoorob
Selim Zoorob. (UCR/Selim Zoorob)

Zoorob, 22, graduated at the beginning of the summer and was happy to have had the opportunity to spend three months at CERN. His journey there began when one day on campus he saw a post about the internship in the undergraduate physics section on iLearn.

“Going to CERN has always been a dream of mine and it was surreal when I applied for the internship,” he said. “It was a lot of work once we got there, which was the most exciting part of the trip.”

Zoorob has found it both humbling and inspiring to be part of an international team of scientists.

“I was able to be part of all the behind-the-scenes meetings and preparations,” he said. “It was fascinating to see how many ideas and moving parts came together to create a science experiment. It was amazing to see how science actually gets done in the real world.

Zoorob worked on two projects at CERN: “Radiation detected Zero to UltraLow-Field Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (RD-ZULF-NMR)” and “Liquid β-NMR studies of the interaction of Na and K cations with DNA G-quadruplex structures” .

“I was able to participate in the discussions surrounding the development of the RD-ZULF-NMR project, work on a section of the experimental setup and move this section to a hospital in Geneva,” he said. “For the Liquid β-NMR project, I participated in data collection and processing.”

According to Zoorob, the RD-ZULF-NMR project could revolutionize the field of biochemistry by offering a new visualization tool to study molecules. It could also benefit the medical field by making MRI machines more compact, affordable and safe.

“I often took the tram to visit Geneva – a car-free city with attractive local markets, many tourist attractions and museums,” he said. “I was amazed by the rich history of Geneva and visiting the Geneva Museum of Ethnography, or Museum of Ethnicity in Geneva, was my favorite part.”

For Zoorob, CERN will hold a place close to his heart because it taught him to work as a scientist and opened his mind to exploration.

“A certain sense of mystique can be found in every corner of CERN, from the library which exclusively contains books related to physics, to the marvelous laboratories that I had only seen before in textbooks,” he said. . “What is surprising at CERN is its sense of decentralization. There is no ‘main building’ but rather different facilities that come together to form a complex system. I was free and encouraged to explore this system that once seemed impossible to understand.

CERN internships for UCR students started in mid-June and ended in mid-August. Professors from the UCR Department of Physics and Astronomy who assisted and guided Caruso, Vasquez, and Zoorob are Yongtao Cui, Bill Gary, Owen Long, Flip Tanedo, and Stephen Wimpenny.

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