A whole new journey begins at CERN as a summer student!

Myself in the CMS control room as a Strip tracker shifter during CRUZET — Cosmic RUn at ZEro Tesla.

Sat at the CERN library after meeting my supervisor where we discussed my summer project. I walked through the corridors, searching the shelves, looking for helpful ideas and collecting some thoughts. I opened a book and read this quote on its first page:

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that ! 

— Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

I stood there thinking how beautiful the epigraph was, it brought me back to the journey I have made so that I could be for once a summer student in the place that I always wanted to be, CERN. I did remember myself reading that email that started with: Dear Jaffel, Congratulations! You have been selected as one of the Non-Member State Summer students …!

I thought it must be one of the most unforgettable moments in the life career of a selected CERN summer student or at least that’s how I felt! But let me tell you how this summer journey begins.

On June 24th 2018, I travelled to Switzerland, as one of the 250 students from all over the world came to CERN where our journeys began. I took my flight in the early morning loaded with lots of stuff in a big suitcase of enormous size. That was me by the way, a first-time traveller to a foreign country. Later in my life, I learned how to become minimalistic when it comes to packing, but we will get to that in a later blog.. maybe! The moment I step out of the tram in front of CERN’s main entrance, seeing that huge globe in the sunlight, I felt how happy I am to be finally there and I thought: “This is going to be a great summer”.

As everyone began to arrive and settle in, each of us started to work on the project that we were assigned to. I joined the team working on the Perturbed Angular Correlation technique at the Radioactive Ion Beam facility (ISOLDE). As a student with Condensed-Matter theoretical physics background, that was the best time I ever spent. Working close to the experimental facility has deepened my understanding of the complexity and ambiguity of empirical work in using radioisotopes to ‘look’ into materials and learn about their properties. I have learned more than I actually imagined, it was a priceless chance for me to get out of my comfort zone thus I challenged myself working and presenting in an international environment.

Alongside the projects we had, we followed a series of lectures given by researchers from all over the world. They shared their enthusiasm for physics and also their knowledge about a wide range of topics (e.g. Detectors, Heavy Ions, Superconducting Accelerator Magnets, Dark Matter searches, Physics data analysis…). It was a beautiful busy summer with plenty of workshops, lectures, and visits that allowed us to learn more and more every single day, to meet people, and most of all to enjoy learning.

In the midst of lots of interesting activities, I get the chance to interact with people from all over the world and many of them become friends for life. I was fortunate to have an amazing friend like Ann Njeri who is originally from Kenya, together we discovered the beauty of Switzerland and we went through many hiking adventures including a trek to Crêt de la Neige, the highest peak in the Jura mountains.

My best friend Ann and myself early that summer ( me in a different look before facing the PhD life and going crazy :p ).

If you ask me, how can I describe CERN? I would say it is the place where people overcome the boundaries that we maintain at all levels, personal, social, and geographical and the place that makes you realize the beauty that lies in diversity. Living in such an environment with people having similar goals and aspirations to physics, love for knowledge, and discoveries is such an amazing thing to witness, see it happen and feel it deeply when you are there.

Looking back now, my summer school experience has had a strong significant impact on my life choices and helped me actually to advance my future research goals in many unforeseen ways. Let me tell you how? That summer a visit to the CMS experiment was organized for MENA (the Middle East & North Africa) students, we weren’t able to see the detector at that time as CERN was approaching the Year-End Technical Stop (YETS) which has been especially busy for CMS in preparation for the long shutdown. That day I enjoyed being away from the lectures for some time and it shook me that everything we studied during this summer was actually happening a few hundred meters beneath my feet. I thought if I would ever have the chance to be part of that impressive collaboration of scientists, engineers, technicians and people in all fields of research who worked there every day and night for the closure. I wished for that dream but I worked hard for it to make it happen. I took the risk to jump from condensed matter to Particle physics. Not like I couldn’t work at CERN with a master’s degree in condensed matter, I think the opportunities are open to everyone, whatever their background, it was just me, I was no longer enthusiastic enough to continue in that domain.

I started my PhD at UCLouvain, University in Belgium and get involved in beyond the standard model data analysis search for an extended Higgs sector in the context of the Two Higgs Doublet-Model (2HDM), using the full data of proton-proton collisions recorded by the CMS detector during the full run2 of the LHC which finished later that summer. As I am about to finish my PhD it seems like these memories of my summer school have come alive as if to help me keep going and I wanted to share them with you… The school was a great opportunity that allowed me to go beyond my abilities and showed me what I am capable of. I am in debt to all people that supervised me during the time I was there and to those who trusted me that I could do more by joining their research group.

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