• Question: How did you manage to work on the largest particle accelerator in the world?

    Asked by Zaki to Kathryn on 8 Nov 2018.
    • Photo: Kathryn Coldham

      Kathryn Coldham answered on 8 Nov 2018:


      Great question Zaki!

      I knew I wanted to be a particle physicist since the LHC started up when I was about 13 years old. But it was when I was 17 years old that I decided to try to get a work experience placement on the LHC (work experience is a short period of time you can spend working in a particular job so you can get a taste of what it is like, to help you decide if you’d like to work there in the future). None of my family work in science so I did not know any particle physicists and I had no previous experience of working in research. So, in the first term of me being in Year 12, I sent lots of emails with my CV (a document that explains things like where you’ve studied in the past, any jobs you’ve had, any hobbies, awards, etc..) and a cover letter (a little similar to a CV but it is written in the style of a letter, is typically one A4 page long and links your experience more to the specific job you’re applying for) attached to it.

      I was over the moon when I received a response and was accepted, marking the start of my journey of working on the LHC! So, in the following summer, I flew to Geneva for my work experience placement (it was also my first ever time abroad so I was very nervous!). I worked on one of the detectors on the LHC called the CMS detector, where I looked at the amount of radiation damage a part of this detector had experienced over a certain time period. I was also taken on a tour of many parts of the LHC (including going 100 metres underground to actually see the CMS detector!).

      It was an incredible experience and, since then, I have had more research placements abroad. I had an internship at DESY in 2017 (a research centre in Germany), where I worked with a group that analyses data taken from the ATLAS experiment at CERN. I looked at the decay of a particle called the Z boson into an electron and a positron (which has the same mass as the electron but opposite charge). While I was a student at Queen Mary, I also studied a simulation of data taken from the ATLAS experiment for a process where two Higgs bosons (a particle that gives other particles their masses) are produced from a graviton (a particle predicted to transport gravity between other particles). This was for my dissertation – a big research project and report you have to complete in your final year of university. I finally returned to CERN this summer as a “summer student”, where I worked on an upgrade project for the CMS detector (and with the same physicist who I worked with for my first ever placement at CERN!).

      Now I’m a PhD student at Brunel University London, researching into one of the ways that a particle, called the top quark, is produced in the CMS detector!

      So my advice is to try to get as much work experience as possible so you can learn new skills and find out more about what working in research is like. Don’t let rejections stop you (I’ve been rejected for way more applications than I’ve been successful!), just keep trying! Take initiative, ask lots of questions and look out for as many opportunities as you can to learn more about science!

      Feel free to ask me anymore questions 🙂

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