A project on the Higgs boson sparked my interest in the Large Hadron Collider

Josh McFayden
Josh McFayden
CERN Fellow, ATLAS, Switzerland
MPhys Physics with Mathematics
After completing his degree in our department, Joshua has gone on to work on the ATLAS experiment at CERN's Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

Where are you currently working and in what role?

I am currently working as a CERN Fellow on the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. Right now I am convener of the ATLAS Physics Modelling Group. The group is responsible for producing the most precise and accurate possible simulations of what we expect the LHC collisions to look like. This is essential for both making high precision measurements of known particles and their interactions and looking for new ones.

What are you enjoying about what you do so far?

I really enjoy the day-to-day work of constantly having to problem-solve and each day learning something new. As a researcher on one of the LHC experiments, I also have the privilege of looking at brand new collision data that’s coming in all the time, this means in some cases that you're the first person to ever observe a certain phenomenon – I find that one of the most exciting things about the job. Also, working with collaborators from all around the world is one of the things I really value about working at CERN and of scientific research generally.


I did not know Sheffield very well before I came for an open day, but I really liked the city from the moment I arrived.

Josh McFayden

MPhys Physics with Mathematics


What made you choose this career path?

I had been interested in and aware of CERN since I was at school, but I first realised that this a career in particle physics research was something was interested in was during my third year undergraduate project in Sheffield. This project was titled 'Searching for the Higgs Boson' (using simulated data only at that point!). This sparked my interest in the LHC experiments and ATLAS in particular and led me to embark on a summer internship the following summer also working on ATLAS and then also a fourth year project also looking at LHC simulated data to optimise searches for supersymmetric particles!

Did you gain any work experience whilst at University, or do any research placements?

Yes, between my third year and fourth years I took part in a Nuffield Summer Studentship which involved working for several weeks in the department on a project looking at improving ATLAS calibration techniques. This gave be really important experience of the experiment and the software tools required for this kind of research.

Did your degree from Sheffield help you get to where you are?

Yes! My fourth year project supervisor encouraged me to apply for a PhD in Sheffield and in the end became my PhD supervisor too! My PhD was my real training as a research physicist and was indispensable for my career. A large part of this came from the strong team of people in the Sheffield Physics department.

Why did you choose Sheffield and physics? What sets Sheffield apart from other universities?

I did not know Sheffield very well before I came for an open day, but I really liked the city from the moment I arrived. The thing I really like about Sheffield is that is has the combination of being large enough to be very entertaining, but small enough to have a real sense of community. Being next to the Peak District is also a big positive!

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