CERN Diary #1

Some friends asked me to keep a diary of my experiences at CERN this summer (which I would have done anyway ;-)). I could already fill a complete book even about my first week, and shall now do my utmost to compress it into digestible length.

Journey and Arrival: After a short sit-in with Berni, Thomas, Jakob and Volker, I mount the night train on Thursday (June 28). There I share interesting conversations with a girl named Sina, but no solemn slumber due to all the rumbling and squeaking of the train. The last quarter of the trip from Zurich to Geneva offers a wonderful view. Mario picks me up at the station, brings me to CERN and introduces me to lots of people. Everyone is very friendly, easy-going and humorous. Half of the globe is present here, which creates an incredible atmosphere! I already receive a wonderful letter from Natalie which almost moves me to tears of joy. Then we descend into the depths to see the massive ATLAS detector under construction. I find it amazing that such a thing can even be planned, let alone built with such high precision!

First Weekend: On Friday evening we (Mario and I) visit a small Jazz Festival in Crozet, where I practice some French for the first time in 10 years. On Saturday we make a trip to Geneva (absolutely gorgeous in Summer!), where we meet with the newly-wed Slavi and Marija and his best man Holger to spend a lovely day together. We explore the massive fountain, several parks and the inner city.

Thoiry: My lodging is a house in Thoiry on the slopes of the Jura Mountains, which offers a splendid view towards CERN and Geneva; in good weather conditions, even Mont Blanc is visible in the distance. My friendly housemates are Kevin (Canada), Olivier (France) and Giulio (Italy). Occasionally some nice Italians occupy the guest rooms for a few days. My room suffers from a loudly squeaking bed and chronic lack of power plugs. ;-)

First Week: My first day is filled with bureaucratic adventures. Luc, my Belgian supervisor, is quite relaxed, even as it becomes apparent that I have but the faintest of clues about my upcoming tasks so far… amidst databases and as of yet unfamiliar program structures, I cannot see the wood for the trees. Later I discover that other “Summies” (Summer Students) share quite similar experiences. Fortunately I am not the only moron around here! :-)

My main interest focuses on Eowyn – no, not a female student from Rohan, but the well-formed name of a program -, and I slowly begin to understand its structure in order to draw an up-to-date state diagram. I am working in the very building where the WWW was born once upon a time, sharing the office with Armin and Gregor (both from Austria) who are very helpful.

Wednesday, July 4: A very special day. My first lectures in the “amphitheatre”, and first contact with a record-breaking number of “Summies” (2/3 males, 1/3 females). Later we are invited for a “welcome drink”, for the first time without alcohol this year, but nonetheless ideal for getting to know each other.

In the evening the Americans throw a party in the nearby hostel to celebrate their patriotic anniversary. Half of the globe gathers there and gets drunk to variable extents. I meet people from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Czech Republic, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Iceland, France, Spain, Italy, Greece, Malta, UK, US, Israel, Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, India, Japan, China, Vietnam, Mexico, Argentina, … more countries than ever before – within just a few hours!

One of the Japanese guys is named Hiro, which makes him quite popular. He has never heard about Hiro Nakamura before coming to CERN though. ;-)

Lake Parade: On Saturday (July 7) Mario, SomAnca (Maria and Hannes, who have come from Austria for a visit) and I visit Geneva again. A dream of a day! In the afternoon we stumble upon the “Lake Parade” along Lake Geneva. Masses of strange people, pimped trucks with posing DJs, males (showing off their abdominals) and females (swinging their hips and more), and lots of gruesome music: “People people people!” (oomptz-oomptz-oomptz) … “Move your bodies!” (zonk-onk-onk-onk drrrumptz) … What a crazy spectacle!

Second Week: The lectures (each day from 09:15-12:30) are becoming more interesting. During a fascinating visit at the antimatter experiments we learn about the difficult production of anti-hydrogen (featuring decelerators) or helium atoms with an anti-proton replacing one of the electrons (amazing, yet highly instable), and the highly unrealistic aspects in a soon-to-be-filmed bestseller by Dan Brown. The students delight in a Toga party and a French party.

Third Week: I participate in two poker evenings and a chess evening, and visit the “Hardronic Festival” with Gregor. One band, dressed in amazing retro outfits (leggings, fishnet tops, subtle makeup, hairstyle, …) plays lots of 80’s metal classics, but the sound is far from excellent. The last band proves that even Metallica songs can sound great with a female voice. – I eventually finish the Eowyn state diagram and stick the printed pieces to the office wall … in A0 format. :-)

Next week will feature lots of sports (Summer student soccer championship, tennis, running etc.), more lectures on the Standard Model and cosmology, and most probably the beginning of some serious programming. I’ll keep you posted!

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