Hannah Openshaw - my internship at CERN

I am currently half way through my 2-month Internship in the outreach group of the ATLAS experiment at CERN, and I am beginning to understand just how valuable an opportunity this experience has been.


Being a physics graduate, I had heard of ATLAS and CERN many times throughout my education. ATLAS is a detector on the largest scientific experiment in the world, the Large Hadron Collider, and held joint responsibility for the discovery in 2012 of the Higgs Boson, which was theorised to explain why some fundamental particles have mass.

This scientific breakthrough, along with others, means that there is a reasonable chance that you will walk past a Nobel prize winner on your way to lunch, showing just how unique the CERN environment really is.

What I have learned in my short time here is that it’s the people who make the ATLAS experiment so brilliant. The collaboration consists of over 3000 scientific authors from more than 80 different nationalities, and it’s this inherent diversity which I am focussing on for my project: ATLAS Around the World.

I am interviewing people from all the nationalities present in ATLAS and using the style of a photo-essay to communicate their current scientific work, but also the other dimensions of their personalities which don’t conform to the physicist stereotype.

Aside from my main project, I have been involved in a few other things such as the creation of content for the visitor tours at the Antiparticle Decelerator, which allows experiments to be conducted on antimatter, and redesigning the ATLAS press page to make the content more accessible for the media.

One thing I have always been interested in is the fusion of art and science and this is something which is very prevalent at CERN. I had the privilege of being invited to the premier of the Art Basel exhibition HALO by Semiconductor – A piece commissioned by the Arts@CERN program which you can read about here.

I have also been volunteering at the CERN film festival CineGlobe which is this year themed “Intelligent Futures”. Through this, I have met the Artist behind the 360 Degree dome projections, assisted the Virtual Reality improv-theatre troupe and watched open air cinema screenings of classic sci fi films, all whilst building a network of colleagues for potential future collaboration.

It can be daunting and lonely to move to a new place with different cultures so getting involved in as many things as possible, such as volunteering, has helped to speed up the process of settling in.

Another interesting aspect of CERN is the speed with which decisions can be made within large organisations such as this. Understandably, the quality of any output for CERN must be of a high standard, and there are several people who need to OK your actions before you can progress, and this takes time as they are all extremely busy. Initially, this felt like a large hurdle to completing my work within the Internship. However, I now know that you must push to be heard and you will need to send a mountain of emails to make sure you become a priority.

So far, my placement has introduced me to many contacts in the field of physics and science communication and has helped me to develop important skills necessary to succeed in this career path. It’s an inspiring place to work and I look forward to CERN’s next big discovery. (I hope it’s Dark Matter!)