My experience starting a PhD project in collaboration with CERN

Posted in: Department of Mechanical Engineering, PhD, Postgraduate

Author: Sophie McNair

In October 2019 I joined the University of Bath to start my PhD in Mechanical Engineering, with a project run as part of the university’s collaboration with the CMS experiment at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. This has been a massive challenge, but my first nine months have been incredibly exciting!

A Compact Muon Solenoid machine
A sneak peek of the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS). Source:

The Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) is a 14,000 tonne detector which aims to answer fundamental particle physics questions at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. It is due to be upgraded in 2024 to make it even more powerful and my project is a small part of this upgrade. Essentially, I am working to help design and validate a support structure for an improved cooling system that is required as the electronics get more powerful, focusing on custom pipe materials and connections.

Starting this project felt a little daunting due to the scale and complexity of the CMS experiment, but I have been very well supported both by the university and the cooling team at CERN. I was even given the opportunity to visit the site in Geneva just two months into my PhD, not only allowing me to see first-hand the exciting things they do over there, but to collaborate with the people who have been fundamental in helping me with my project so far.

While I was there I was able to present my initial findings and results as part of the conference with the wider CMS community, this was the first time I had ever spoken to a large group of people but I got a very positive reaction!

A lady with red haired glasses presenting in a meeting room.
My first time ever presenting to a large group of people!

Looking forward, I hope to be able to plan a few more trips as and when it is safe to do so, and I have been continuing to collaborate remotely for the time being. However, it is easier for me to stay motivated when I think back on my trip and seeing the reasons behind my project, and where it fits in in the wider context of the CMS experiment. My first nine months have overall been a very positive experience, and I am excited to see where my project will take me over the next few years.

Posted in: Department of Mechanical Engineering, PhD, Postgraduate


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