Rubik’s cube, an original subject for a remarkable project

Thanks to a Rubik's cube, young French students Florentin Delaine, Joseph Gennetay and Jason Loyau won a week-long visit to CERN at the European Union’s 2011 contest for young scientists (EUCYS). They spent 17 to 24 July exploring the Laboratory.


Florentin Delaine, Joseph Gennetay and Jason Loyau at the CERN Control Centre.

“It all started with a friend who was playing with a Rubik's cube. At our lycée, we had to choose a subject for a research project. We thought it would be fun to build a robot to solve the puzzle,” recounts Jason. Two years later, their entry in the internationally recognised EUCYS 2011 competition, for young scientists between 14 and 20 years, was a prizewinner.

The CERN prize came after the three 19-20 year-olds had faced more than 130 participants from 37 countries, including 29 European countries, at the 23rd EUCYS contest, held in Helsinki in September 2011.   The jury, composed of scientists from a variety of disciplines, was highly influenced by a demonstration of their robot, and awarded them the special EIROforum CERN prize. “We were happy to win this particular prize; CERN will really remain in our memories,” says Florentin.

From the ATLAS visitor’s centre to the central workshop (Building 100), from SM18 to the CERN Control Centre, they were overwhelmed by the scale of the machines and by the enthusiasm of the people they met. “CERN is really at the cutting edge, they are constantly pushing the boundaries of technology,” says Joseph. Florentin adds: “We met people who were passionate about what they are doing and couldn't imagine doing anything else."

EUCYS is an international contest that has been organised by the European Union since 1989. To qualify for the contest, candidates must first win science prizes in their own country. After writing their first software programme, Florentin, Joseph and Jason were invited to present their robot-building project to the president of Sciences à l’École, the French education system’s programme for promoting science. Following that meeting, the president offered them funding, on the condition that they enter the French contest C.Génial. The three secondary-school students accepted the challenge and thus ended up qualifying for EUCYS.

The advantages of learning while having fun are well known. “The robot may not have much practical use, but we learned an awful lot by building it ourselves. Maybe this is what appealed to the jury,” explains Florentin. The subject may have caused a few people to smile, but it also raised real problems of scientific, technical and computing nature.

Having left school, and with the Rubik’s cube adventure successfully behind them, the three young men are pursuing their paths towards studies in engineering. Who knows? Perhaps one of these days they will join, as Jason puts it, these “CERN people of so many different backgrounds, working together for the advancement of science”.

To find out more about Florentin, Joseph and Jason’s Rubik’s cube project, watch the video of their robot in action, or go to the website they set up to present the project.

For information on the previous year’s winner, consult the CERN Bulletin, Issue 31-33 article: 19 years old and a neutrino expert.

by Caroline Duc