My Summer Internship Journey Part 1: The World’s Largest Physics Lab

Joshua Gunawan
4 min readMay 26, 2020


I decided to write a story based on my internship experience just for the sake of sharing and reminiscing. It might be a simple but definitely memorable story of my life.

Photo of CERN Summer Student 2018 at The Globe of Innovations

During the first semester of my junior year, everyone seemed to be preoccupied with their homework and tests. At that moment, nobody thought about applying for an internship yet — I was no exception. But somehow, in December 2017, it came to my head, “what if I apply for CERN?”.

After that moment, I went full speed on my application preparation, spent hours writing about my relevant experiences, and wondered why it has to be CERN. Fortunately, I received much help from my senior, Fadhil, who also did an internship at CERN.

I finished the application in time before the deadline. After that, I need to wait for a while for the announcement. My friends were starting to get an acceptance letter for their internships; I was starting to feel uneasy. The internship was mandatory, and I did not apply to other companies, so what if I didn’t get this internship?

Then one night, I got this email from CERN, and I can’t believe my eyes. I read it a thousand times to make sure if I still have to go through another process, or this is it. However, I can tell you that receiving the acceptance letter does not put my anxiety to an end. What about the funding? Is it too late to make a visa? Long story short, I was able to go through the process and flew abroad for the first time.

My Project at CERN
On the first day of my internship, I met my supervisor, Nicola Pacifico. He talked me through about the project and how it is integral to the main experiment. I have to be honest with you; I don’t understand a thing he says!

Photo of Nicola and me at the Thermal Setup Lab

The next thing I do is I sit on my desk and learn how to use NI LabVIEW for the rest of the week. Fortunately, Nicola was helpful in many ways. He explained the project until I get a grasp on the subject and introduced me to Neil Dixon, the physics guy that will use the program. He tells me how to buy equipment for my project.

So, in short, I need to rebuild a program for a cooling system. The sequentially built program took 15–20 seconds to perform a task. So if there’s an emergency on the system, we have to wait for 15–20 seconds, imagine that! What I did is I redesign the program into an event-driven paradigm. This paradigm makes the program more responsive and scalable, meaning we can put other features into the program with ease — which I did. I add a few features like communicating with the power supply via SNMP protocol.

Several detectors mounted on aluminum-carbon blocks and pyrolytic graphite plates.

I finished this project with three weeks left in my internship period. I was then assigned a new project. At that time, the existing hardware utilizes one flash ADC to read over 300 temperature sensors. The drawback of this hardware was substantial noise over the signal and the long acquisition time because of the oversampling method. Nicola and I then work on a new device that utilizes sigma-delta ADC, and the results were fascinating. We successfully reduce the acquisition time for 300 sensors from 15 seconds to only 1.2 seconds!

Working with Nicola and Neil was the best experience ever. I never felt pressure from the job, but I was able to explore myself and created an impact on the project.

That was my project experience in a nutshell. In the next article, I will share how I spent my weekends traveling Europe with Arifin.

Cheers mate!

If you have no idea what CERN is
CERN is currently the largest nuclear research facility in the world. CERN stands for Conseil européen pour la recherche nucléaire or The European Organization for Nuclear Research in English. No, CERN does not make nuclear bombs. Instead, it focuses on the research of particle physics. Located in the border of Geneva, CERN’s facility spread across Switzerland and France. The Large Hadron Collider is the largest particle accelerator in the facility. It has four main experiment sites: ATLAS, CMS, LHCb, and ALICE. Rumor has it that they will build an accelerator much bigger than the LHC, namely the Future Circular Collider.

Picture of The Large Hadron Collider at CERN



Joshua Gunawan

Sharing my thoughts and experiences to the world. Engineering/Finances/Philosophy.