A glimpse into the future for 12 young scientists

Last week, CERN received a visit from a gifted group of high school students. The winners of CERN’s Special Award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) were invited to spend a few days here and discover first hand what it's like to work in such a complex environment and how to best enjoy oneself in this part of the world.


ISEF students sit with Wolfgang Von Rüden outside of the Globe.

In early 2009, Craig Barrett, Intel’s chairman of the Board at the time, visited CERN as part of Intel’s partnership in CERN openlab. He and Wolfgang von Rüden, former IT Department Head, agreed to create the CERN Special Award for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) – a 5-day trip to CERN for 12 students, co-funded by CERN and Intel.

The annual Intel ISEF is an aspiration for students, who participate at the local high school science fair level. Students who succeed there go on to compete at ISEF affiliated regional or state level fairs from which the winning students earn an invitation to participate in Intel ISEF, held this year in Los Angeles, California. It is the premier science competition for high school students (ages 14–18) worldwide, with some 1500 participating students now coming from as many as 60 different countries.

Winning the Intel ISEF competition does not go without recognition and the top prizes awarded to the students are quite generous. Besides the many financial prizes awarded to students who win in the Grand Awards category, there are numerous Special Awards that are granted by partnering organizations and institutions. The Special Awards vary from university scholarships to all-inclusive trips to visit laboratories and scientific organizations worldwide.

Now in the third year, the CERN special award winners who passed a multi-level selection process discovered first hand what CERN is all about and what it's like to work in such a complex environment. Von Rüden prepared an extensive programme of lectures and visits, given by some of CERN’s most experienced physicists and engineers. The students also visited Geneva, EPFL and some of Switzerland’s nearby landmarks.

Sahir Raoof, a 17-year-old student from Jericho, New York, described the experience in comparison to the time he spent at RHIC, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he did work on the electric dipole moment of the proton that led to his ISEF prize. “Coming to CERN has opened my eyes to high-energy physics and how large the scale is here at CERN,” said Raoof. “The amount of brain power and the scale of the experiments here with detectors that weigh twice as much as the Eiffel tower… it's hard to wrap your head around.”

Emil Khabiboulline, 16, from Aurora Illinois explained that he has a high interest in both physics and engineering: “I would be happy to work for CERN because I find the work done here and the amount of necessary collaboration an intriguing prospect.” Emil did research for his ISEF project at Fermilab, where he studied models for quench propagation in systems of interconnected superconducting coils and efficient methods of quench protection. “By the end of my research period, I produced results that will hopefully be used in the design of a future linear particle accelerator.”

While some of the visiting students were lucky enough to have been exposed to a large laboratory setting already, others were thrilled by the introduction to such large-scale science. On their final day, the students were paired up with a scientist who allowed them to tag along to see what an afternoon in the life of a CERN scientist is really like, and many of the students were introduced to the prospect of a summer internship at CERN through the Summer Student Programme. Andrey Sushko in particular, a 17-year-old student from Richland Washington, who designed a new alternative to conventional electrical motors using electrowetting principles, was intrigued by the internship opportunity. “I’ve mainly been working alone,” explained Sushko. “I did all my research at home, in my room, but I would really enjoy collaboration in principle. I have only just heard of the Summer Student Programme in the past few days and it sounds very interesting. I am definitely applying. ”

The final night in Geneva brought the students into the city to enjoy an evening of blues with the Blues Association of Geneva (BAG), not by accident, as the trip organiser is also a blues musician.

For more information on Intel ISEF visit the website.
To know more about the programme of this trip and the award winners’ projects:

by Jordan Juras