Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

A work placement among crashing sub-atomic particles

1 Oct 2015 16:24 | Communication

AUAS Computer Science student Bas van Otterloo will be going on his graduation work placement at CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, which carries out research into the particles of matter.

CERN initially offered the AUAS student a work placement in web development, but Bas also really wanted to move into robotics. For this reason, Bas and CERN agreed that he will also work on the maintenance robot of one of the sub-atomic particle detectors, which detects particles smaller than an atom.

Geleyn Meijer, dean of the AUAS School of Digital Media and Creative Industries, applauds this work placement: 'Bas is the second student we have sent on a work placement at CERN. This clearly demonstrates that the applied sciences are important to this kind of prestigious international programme. Developing these large-scale initiatives requires students who are passionate about making things and realising projects. Defining characteristics of the applied sciences student: they want to realise things, want to see things working.’

Photo: CERN

Crashing cars

But what exactly does CERN investigate? Bas explains it in simple terms: 'There is a tunnel underneath Switzerland and France, and there is a system of tubes in this tunnel. In the tubes, the researchers fire bundles of protons* at one another at almost the speed of light. You could see this as two cars crashing into one another at high speed: then all kinds of parts, such screws and springs, fly out. This is like what happens when they make the beams collide: this creates a rain of sub-atomic particles. These are so small, they have to be traced by three detectors. My work placement will involve one of these three detectors.'

The well-known CERN particle accelerator (LHC) produces a billion such collisions per second. The researchers use this to test basic theories of physics, in order to better understand the basic forces of the universe.

Bas van Otterloo

Super-slow computers

For his thesis project, Bas is going to investigate the possibilities for optimising the detector’s maintenance robot. A difficult job, because this robot has to perform its maintenance work in spite of high levels of radiation, which means that ordinary electro-motors don’t work, for example.

Bas: 'Outdated, and therefore slower, computers are used close to the detector. Faster computers lead to irreversible corruptions owing to the high radiation. The computers are also so slow because of the incredible demands made of them; everything has to be tested under extreme conditions. Once a computer has been subjected to such extensive testing, it’s officially been no longer available for some time.’

The AUAS student will also be improving the ICT environment for the detector. This could be seen as the detector’s online dashboard, which shows all the data from the detector. Bas is going to make this data responsive, meaning it will then also be visible on mobile devices.

Bas is leaving in October: 'I’m really looking forward to this work placement. And I hope this article will motivate other students to look further than the normal boundaries for work placements.'