STEP Reflection

My signature project involved modeling the decay of W bosons using monte carlo computer programs. By generating random numbers and assigning them specific probability values we can simulate real life results. The results simulated are from the ATLAS detector at the LHC in Switzerland.

I’ve learned that the scientific community does not care about the problems that countries have with each other. Everyone wants to work together and make new discoveries. CERN is actually a huge collaboration. Thousands of scientists from universities around the world all collaborate at CERN. Some universities design and send parts to CERN and some analyze data from the detectors there. It made me realize that we are past the point of singular discoveries. It is likely that most breakthroughs occurring from now on are the result of collaborations. As we know it now, science is much more of a team activity than I thought it was.

In terms of interactions during my STEP project I mostly only talked to my research adviser. There was a graduate student in my group that is at CERN so I haven’t got the chance to meet him but I’m looking forward to it. I had initially thought that it would just be me doing all of the writing and work while my supervisor watched over me but it turned out that the papers we wrote were for the most part too advanced for me so I had to do something that allowed me to contribute. I’m running monte carlo programs that simulate real world results but I did not necessarily know what it meant.

My adviser has reassured me that I do not need to know all the detail of what we are doing yet. The important thing was that I was getting real experience modeling real events and experience with doing statistics. It turns out that a lot of undergraduates doing research run into the same issue as me. The adviser makes good use of the student but understands that the topic is too advanced. It got me thinking that all of those thousands of people working at CERN are probably just the advisers, there are likely just as many undergraduates working on this project too. Its nice to know that I am apart of something bigger and I’m already involved as an undergrad.

This project has actually scared me a bit. I’m scared of going to graduate school and I’m scared of designing my own experiments to run, not knowing if I will find anything, not knowing where to even start looking. The only thing I can hope is that I get a good research adviser in graduate school that is willing to help me out. If not, I may have to rely on my peers. As of now, my adviser is very hands-off with me so I am getting experience doing research by myself but it makes me nervous to think about the increase in difficulty that is sure to come.

Of course, this experience was extremely valuable to me because I am going to grad school. It has definitely given me experience doing research alone and experience doing collaborations. It also helped me realize that I want to do experimental research in the field of particle physics. I thought that publishing my findings was trivial compared to the actual experiment but I learned that it’s actually very hard to be clear and being clear is the most important aspect of any paper. Overall, I am satisfied with my experience and am grateful to STEP for helping me do this over the summer.


This is about what my work space looked like half the time: