The CERN Experience

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How would you feel if you get selected for some really big organization for some amazing program? Well, we all know that it would be a breakthrough for you and the learning experience would be utterly indispensable. But the feelings… ah, that is probably something that cannot be explained in words.

So, we decided to catch up with someone who had this amazing opportunity to spend 8 weeks at the largest physics lab of the World! Meet Hassan Jalil, a student at SEECS, who was at CERN in a summer student program this year. For those of you who are not familiar with CERN, it is the European Organization for Nuclear Research, situated at the border of France and Switzerland. It is the place where the World Wide Web was born, and it houses some of the largest particle accelerators on Earth. It has also been in the news for the discovery of the most important and elusive particle in particle physics – the Higgs boson – although the discovery is yet to be confirmed.

At CMS Detector.

At CMS Detector.

I R NUSTIAN: So, Hassan, tell us a bit about your visit to CERN, and how did it come about?

Hassan Jalil: I was part of the Non Member State Summer Student program at CERN. I was allotted the prestigious CMS group where I helped them improve their existing code related to SiStrip Tracker, add new features and make the code more dynamic. I applied online for this opportunity. The application is available on their website, a student can apply after completing 3 years of Bachelors. The Program was 8 weeks in total. There were series of lectures based on both Physics and IT that the summer student could attend. There were also trips of different facilities and workshops planned for the student. We were lucky since our stay was during the 60th Anniversary of CERN so there were a lot of activities going on.

CERN is huge! What were your feelings when you got selected for the program?

Hassan: I remember getting the email and … the feeling cannot be described in words. I was the happiest person alive for that small moment. I rushed to my parents, told them the news, they couldn’t be happier. I remember just standing their thanking Allah Almighty for this huge opportunity.

What was the most challenging thing you came across while working?

Hassan: Well the most challenging thing for me was to understand the entire concept behind my project. Basically I was working for the Tracker team of the Data Quality Monitoring, CMS group. Tracker team is responsible for plotting graphs and information regarding the path of the particle after the collision in the CMS Detector. Understanding the detector, its different layers, their Orientation, how they are aligned and what kind of different variables have been used to denote them. Now that was the most challenging part, especially because there were over 15000 detectors in 35 different layers. Understanding how the detectors exist physically and then how they have been simulated in the software using different values was definitely difficult.

During CMS visit.

During CMS visit.

What were the perks of your time spent there? What were the annoying parts?

Hassan: The biggest perk besides it looking awesome on my C.V… 😛  was the fact that I got to meet student from all over the world. There were over 250 summer students at CERN from every continent. My Group of friends consisted people from Romania , Ireland  , Sweden , India , South Africa , Finland , Colombia , Japan , Czech Republic , Netherland , England , Turkey , Thailand , Iran… to name a few.

Another huge perk was the fact that we were in Central Europe with free weekends and a visa that permitted us to travel between Schengen states. Getting to visit over 10 cities in 4 different countries was something that made this summer even better.

As for the annoying part, definitely food. I am a person who has never cooked in his life, never even boiled an egg before. We lived in this small French town St. Genis, which bordered Geneva, Switzerland. The closest restaurant to our hostel was 2 KM away. So it was either a 4 KM walk to get food and get back, or learn to cook. After a few attempts at cooking I decided the 4 KM walk was a much better idea.

How was the learning experience?

Hassan: I got to work with CMSSW which is framework of CMS based on C++ and Python. It was refreshing to work again with C++ after a year of developing websites and mobile application as part of our course here at SEECS. I got to learn a lot from my experience at CERN. I got to work at a project where memory and time were a huge concern, so we had to make sure our code was as efficient as possible. You get to learn about all these standards that are followed in an organization as big as CERN.

Most memorable incident?

With supervisor

With supervisor

Hassan: I asked my supervisor to write me a recommendation letter. On the last day on the final meeting we had he told me he was busy all day and could not complete my recommendation letter. Since I had to go back and pack as I was leaving early next morning, my supervisor decided he would come to my hostel to drop it off. The recommendation letter he wrote me was amazing to say the least and the fact the he drove all the way to my hostel after work to drop it off and say goodbye just made it even more memorable

On a lighter note, Visiting Disney Land Paris has to be one of my most memorable moments. Yes I know I am 21 and Disney land is for kids, but I always wanted to visit it since I was a little. The kid in me would never forgive me for missing the opportunity. I had one of the best days of my life. The Disney Dream show at the end of the day was simply one of the most amazing thing I have seen

Any general message you’d like to convey?

Hassan: First of all I would suggest everyone to apply for this, it’s a huge opportunity and a great learning experience. I would also like to share something I found really interesting during my stay there. No matter where you go everyone would always greet you. I remember we were hiking on Mount Jura and every hiker we passed by would say “Bonjour”, moreover everyone would say “merci” (Thank You) at the end of the conversation. I think greeting someone and saying thanks just creates a better and friendlier environment, and this is something we don’t see so commonly here in Pakistan.

With a group of friends

With a group of friends


MS student at School of Chemical and Materials Engineering (SCME), NUST, I am interested in science and technology, food, and weird music (but I don’t blog about weird music). I can be contacted at

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