At the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), an army of researchers from around the world are studying the very structure of our universe, starting from the very basic constituents of matter: the fundamental particles.

CERN has some of the largest laboratories in the world, boasting cutting-edge purpose-built instruments like particle accelerators and detectors. It therefore comes as no surprise that, when lecturers from the G. F. Abela Junior College’s Physics Department announced they were organising a visit, all the positions available were quickly snapped up.

There was a recurring theme present throughout our CERN experience: ‘borders’. During our stay, we crossed the Franco-Swiss border several times from our lodgings in France to CERN in Switzerland. Coming from a small islandstate, where any inter-country travel requires a plane or boat ticket, it was a little surreal being able to put our passports away and walk to Switzerland.

The visit helped us reflect on the boundaries we create when trying to study how nature works. We compartmentalise topics into physics, chemistry, or biology, when really these topics are all one large subject seen from different viewpoints. This was most evident in the permanent exhibitions at CERN that touched on topics including atomic structure, PET scans, and the development of computer technology at CERN. There were no borders between the different subjects we studied in different departments back at Junior College.

During this amazing week, we experienced tours of the facility using CERN’s own transport. Many of the researchers use bicycles, taking advantage of all the green areas. We saw dedicated individuals working together for the good of the world, no matter their colour or creed. They overcame yet another border: a cultural one. Their mission is simply to produce outstanding work that will help us understand the universe around us.

The trip opened our eyes in many ways. As a group, we learnt together and supported one another when needed. We shared ideas. Discussed. We were our own mini-unit. With an understanding of this dynamic and all the fields involved, some of us have even been inspired to add a new goal to our list: join the team at CERN.

Authors: Maria Victoria Vella, Josephine Vella and Karen Muscat
This visit was made possible thanks to our sponsors: Liquigas Malta Ltd, Mizzi Motors, and Buzzer Stationers & Publishers. We wish to thank our lecturers for organising the experience, namely Ms. M. Soler, Ms. A. Vella, Mr. C. Busuttil, Ms. L. Bonello, and Ms. E. Bugeja.


Analysing Alice: Finding order in chaos

With every particle collision in the ALICE experiment, a terabyte of data per second is generated for analysis. But not all of it is essential information. David Reuben Grech speaks to Dr Gianluca Valentino and Dr Johann A. Briffa about their work in separating the wheat from the chaff and removing noise from two of ALICE’s 18 subdetectors.

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Curious matters

 Society is built on curiosity; the drive to find answers to life’s abounding questions. This curiosity continues to fuel our brightest minds today. Cassi Camilleri talks to ALICE experiment leader Prof. Paolo Giubellino about his work at CERN and how it impacts our daily lives.

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Meet the research team

Prof. Ing. Edward Gatt & Dr Ing. Owen Casha – Faculty of ICT

Physicist Dr Giacinto De Cataldo (Head of the HMPID detector) got in touch with Gatt and Casha to work on two microelectronics projects for CERN. Their first project was the O2 Project—a series of upgrades for the ALICE experiment. One of upgrades focuses on improving the Ring-Imaging Cherenkov detector (RICH), found in the HMPID detector, a device that identifies the type of electrically charged particles being emitted by the detector. The second project is the implementation of a Remotely Configurable L0 Trigger Fan-out Module for the ALICE Detector. It involves the clocking management of the ALICE detector with high precision. This research could also be used in consumer telecommunication systems, improving radio frequency circuits’ performance. Finally, Gatt is researching how to improve chip designs used to detect physical phenomena from particle collisions with the aim of making them more intelligent and power-efficient.

Kevin Napoli – Computing CERN Openlab Student

 kevin-napoli“My summer experience at CERN was remarkable. The sharing of knowledge among students and researchers was the highlight of the trip. During the openlab programme we attended lectures about security, machine learning, computer hardware, software optimisation and lots more, many of which are topics not covered at our home university. We also played a role in the ALICE experiment and I worked on my project alongside top notch computer scientists. Another positive aspect of the programme were the various trips to companies and universities in Switzerland. Being able to say that I have worked at CERN is something I will value throughout my career.”

Julia Vella – Physics CERN Summer Student

julia-vellaʻThe months spent at CERN for the summer student internship programme were not only an invaluable experience, but also an insight to future potential careers for my colleagues and I. Based within the HMPID detector of the ALICE experiment, we had a six-week lecture program focused on the fundamental properties of nature. The bulk of the work we were involved in centred on implementing programming languages to process raw data from collisions into useful knowledge. Geneva provided a change of pace for us that was conducive to both hard work and extra curricular activities. Travelling across borders, visiting main projects and control centres at CERN, while also socialising with students from all over the globe, made it an all-encompassing experience not easily matched.ʼ

Josef Magri – M.Sc. Student

josef-magriThe HMPID takes snapshots of the faint patterns generated by the high-energy collisions, passing this information through the RICH electronics module which cleans and transforms it for analysis. Magri is working to optimise the electronic circuits and control boards to improve how data is handled. So far, he has manipulated computer processes to create parallelism, allowing for processes that previously happened one after the other to occur simultaneously. He also used high-throughput interconnects, which, when coupled with parallelism, are expected to increase data collection tenfold. Magri’s work will be combined with that of other researchers and integrated by 2020 in order to improve the detector’s accuracy, potentially revealing building blocks of matter that might have yet to be seen.

Clive Seguna – Ph.D. student

clive-segunaWorking in close collaboration with Magri, Seguna is developing novel electronic circuitry for the CPV and HMPID detectors, that will boost the speed at which collisions are read, going from 4 kHz to 50 kHz, the speed at which the beams interact: true real time. Seguna’s research will be taken on at CERN between 2020–2023.

Further down the rabbit hole

The European Organisation for Nuclear Research—CERN—is synonymous with the world’s brightest minds, cutting-edge research and groundbreaking discoveries. Lars Lorenz interviews Dr Kevin Vella (Faculty of ICT) about the University of Malta’s involvement at CERN and its game-changing tech contribution to the ALICE experiment.

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ALICE’s Adventures in Switzerland

Hidden 175 metres below the Franco-Swiss border lies a feat of human ingenuity: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is the largest scientific instrument ever constructed, providing mankind with the ability to begin unravelling the very fabric of the universe and everything around us. Now, following long established links with the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), University of Malta has signed a memorandum of understanding for its scientists’ collaborate with the latest set of experiments at the LHC.  Words by Scott Wilcockson. Photography by Edward Duca.

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Crash Testing: the Largest Experiment on Earth

MarijacauchiUnder Europe lies a 27 km tunnel that is both the coldest and hottest place on Earth. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has already found out what gives mass to all the matter in the Universe. It is now trying to go even deeper into what makes up everything we see around us. Dr Marija Cauchi writes about her research that helped protect this atom smasher from itself. Photography by Jean Claude Vancell.

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