The View from CERN

Alice Adrienne Sady '13
Alice Adrienne Sady '13 touring ATLAS, one of the detectors at the Large Hadron Collider.

Alice Adrienne Sady ’13 is an astrophysics and music major from Minden, Nev., who’s in Geneva, Switzerland, this semester, enrolled in Boston University’s Geneva Physics Program along with classmate Alyssa Barlis.

Sady divides her time between studying physics (in French!) and interning at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, where she has the extraordinary opportunity to conduct research at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator. Scientists hope the LHC will help answer some of the most fundamental questions of physics.

Sady recently sent her professors back at Williams the happy update below (and the accompanying photos).



Dear Professors,

I’ve been in Geneva with the Boston University Geneva Physics Program for almost two months now, so I thought it appropriate to update the Astro/Physics departments on all the fun I’ve been having at CERN and the University of Geneva! Academics are going very well here. I took two 6-week courses, one to brush up on my French and another that taught basic ROOT and C++ syntax. The computing course was really interesting and a good introduction to software: I can make histograms and graphs, basic neural networks, classes, and many other basic things. For my final project, I analyzed fake data to produce invariant mass spectrum to find new particles (I even found a fake Higgs at 125 GeV in the four muon channel!). Quantum Mechanics and Electrodynamics II at the University of Geneva are going well. Surprisingly, physics in French isn’t that much harder than physics in English. I am also auditing Boston University Prof. Bose’s Particle Physics course that covers [David] Griffiths’ textbook, which has been very helpful in terms of gaining basic particle physics knowledge.

CERN has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. To my knowledge, we are the only undergraduates here for the semester. We have all found internships with various professors at CERN and have had the opportunity to meet many people and see many experiments. We had lunch with Professor Murray Gell-Mann after attending his colloquium. We toured several labs, including NA62 (rare kaon decay), TERA group (accelerators and detectors), several antimatter experiments (Alyssa is working on one of them called AEGIS), and ATLAS, just days before they closed the doors (the beam will be turned on very soon). Seeing ATLAS was breathtaking, especially because I am working under the ATLAS group. Many physicists and engineers work on ATLAS, one of the two general-purpose detectors at the LHC, ranging from jobs that include building the detector to analyzing the data. It has always been one of my dreams to see the LHC; little did I know I would be actually working at CERN with real LHC data.

Alice Adrienne Sady and Alyssa Barlis touring ATLAS
Alyssa Barlis '13 and Sady visit the ATLAS detector

That brings me to the research I’ve been doing, which has been beyond exciting. I am working with Professor Kevin Black from BU on ATLAS in top quark physics. I will be analyzing models of ATLAS data that include traces of physics beyond the Standard Model. We will be testing to see if these traces are still visible in the data after we have run the data through matrices that correct for errors in the data acquisition. I now have loads of ATLAS documentation to read on the detector and how it reconstructs particle tracks and the basics of ATLAS software, which is apparently even more cryptic than the ROOT documentation. I am so excited to be part of the search for new physics at the LHC, and my journey has just begun.

I hope all is well at Williams and the semester is progressing nicely for all of you. Please let sophomores know what an amazing time Alyssa and I are having and that (if they can prove that they’ve had the equivalent of two semesters of college French) they should seriously consider this study-away program. It is an incredible experience to be immersed in physics, especially at CERN.

All my best wishes,


PS: If you don’t believe Alyssa and I are really as excited as I said we were, check out our smiles next to the ATLAS detector – they’re pretty big!!