A graphene coating will be at the heart of a new interdisciplinary research network looking at how nuclear medicine could be used to treat patients with soft tissue cancers.
Colchester Royal Grammar School has just completed two weeks at CERN putting Einstein through his paces.
“It was buzzing then, and it’s still buzzing today!”
The need to bring countries together in the peaceful pursuit of a shared scientific goal is as relevant now as it was when CERN was set up.
The CERN recruitment team is going on tour this autumn to showcase job opportunities for students.
Marina Nazarova in the lab
(Credit: M Nazarova)
A graphene coating will be at the heart of a new interdisciplinary research network looking at how nuclear medicine could be used to treat patients with soft tissue cancers such as melanoma or ovarian cancer.
MEDICIS-PROMED is a three-year Marie Curie Innovative Training Network based at CERN. Funded by the EU, the project’s goal is to secure a better outcome for patients with difficult-to-treat cancers – particularly those where conventional treatments can cause damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
Nuclear medicine tools already exist, but they’re not widely available. “We need to build an evidence base,” says Fiona Reid (UCL), “Different radioisotopes have different benefits for different cancers – we need more details.”
Multidisciplinary is a word that pops up a lot in modern science, but there can’t be many research networks which include transport and logistics experts as well as hospital doctors, engineers and nuclear physicists. The research will be carried out by 15 PhD Fellows supported by expert supervisors.
To produce the isotopes in CERN MEDICIS, a spin-off laboratory from ISOLDE, CERN’s nuclear physics facility, beams of protons will be fired at small target pellets of different elements. The pellets will need to be stored until they’re required, during which they will be vulnerable to oxidation and other effects/reactions which could affect the purity of the resulting isotope. Marina Nazarova (Manchester) is working out how to protect the pellets with a nanocoating of graphene – it will be just one atom thick.
Marina is being supervised by Nobel laureate Kostya Novoselov at the National Graphene Institute, “To make the best quality isotopes, we need to keep the pellets in the best condition,” she explains. “Graphene has unique physical properties that will enable that.”
A chemist by background, Marina is now part of the Condensed Matter Physics group at Manchester. That has meant a steep learning curve just getting to grips with the different lab equipment. The experimental part of the project began in March and Marina has been practicing growing graphene on different metals. It turns out that growing multilayer graphene is relatively easy, but achieving a monolayer isn’t.
The project is undoubtedly challenging, but Marina is enjoying being part of a wider network, “It’s inspiring to spend time with the other members of the network, and the training workshops are really useful.”
MEDICIS-PROMED is focusing on types of cancer that have a poor prognosis – as a result there is considerable potential for regulatory authorities to fast track techniques developed by members of the network. Fiona is structuring the training for the Fellows to help them maximise the innovation outcomes of the project.
“It’s a complicated project that is ambitious in its multidisciplinary,” says Fiona, “but better patient care is a realisable goal.”
Students and teachers from the two winning schools with CERN Director General Fabiola Gianotti
Colchester Royal Grammar School, joint winner of CERN’s Beamline for Schools competition, has just completed two weeks at CERN putting Einstein through his paces.
It’s more than six months since the team of A’ level physics students entered the competition by submitting an experimental proposal and a short video explaining what they hoped to prove. And now they’re busy analysing the results of their experiment.
Talking to the students in the busy control room, it’s clear that their time at CERN has surprised and challenged them in many ways. “We thought the experiment set-up would be done when we arrived, and we’d just be in the control room or analysing data,” says Henry Broomfield, “but we’ve had to move equipment around.”
Although a team of experienced CERN scientists has been on-hand to explain unfamiliar equipment and analytical software, the onus has been on the students to lead the experiment and solve any problems that arise. The realisation that science doesn’t always work first time has given the students a crash course in problem solving.
“There’s no way we could have done it by ourselves,” says Achintya Singh. “The CERN scientists have made it challenging, but do-able.”
“I’ve never been surrounded by so much brain power,” says Kenneth Tsui, referring to the team of mentors, “and then they ask our opinion!”
Over the two weeks, the A’ level students have learnt about beam instrumentation, electronics and programming, as well undertaking all the relevant safety courses to ensure that they can set up and operate their experiment safely. They’re now analysing their data, and there is the potential to submit a paper to a scientific journal.
Taking two weeks out of school is a big undertaking for any student, but there is no doubt that the students have made the most of their time at CERN. “I feel very motivated,” says Joseph Harrow. “We’re never really off-shift because we want to learn as much as we can.”
Although most of the team were already planning to study STEM subjects at university, the time at CERN is prompting some to have a rethink about exactly what they’d like to do; “I can see a career path in experimental physics,” explains James Hirst.
The Colchester team has been collaborating with the other joint winners, a team from Poland. It’s worked very well, with lots of cultural exchange going on alongside the science. The working language has been English, but the Colchester students have been picking up a fair bit of Polish along the way. And that’s the essence of CERN – people coming together from different cultural and national backgrounds, motivated by a shared passion for physics.
“I thought I’d be impressed by the experiments,” says Achintya, “but actually it’s the people.”
“Everything at CERN is about physics,” concludes Kenneth, “you hear people talking about it everywhere!”
If your school would like to take part in the next competition, pre-register now!
James Purvis, CERN’s Head of Human Resources
“It was buzzing then, and it’s still buzzing today!”
James Purvis, CERN’s new Head of HR is reflecting on how CERN’s landscape has evolved since he first arrived in 1989. The LHC’s predecessor, LEP, was just about to be switched on, and ideas of developing something called ‘the World Wide Web’ were just being crystallised.
Fresh from a degree in computer science, James joined CERN at the inception of the AIS (Advanced Information Systems) project. “CERN had an inspiring vision to modernise and simplify administration using technology – and combined with early adoption of the web, the organisation was considerably ahead of its time.”
James was involved in a number of projects to deliver efficiencies through well-designed computing applications – he is particularly proud of being part of the Electronic Document Handling (EDH) team and implementing webEDH. For the 10,000+ members of CERN’s community, EDH an essential – it’s the first port of call for a variety of practical issues such as requesting access to buildings, getting yourself equipped to work through the online stores catalogue, arranging a permit to drive CERN vehicles, and requesting annual leave. But it also ensures that all the permissions are in place if you need to move a radioactive component or place a high value contract with a supplier.
Using cutting edge technology to deliver innovative solutions is in James’ DNA. With his move from IT to HR in 2007, this enthusiasm for innovation became a hallmark of CERN’s talent acquisition activities. The creation of the centralised Recruitment Unit in 2010 saw a complete review and modernisation of the organisation’s brand and recruitment activities to inspire potential employees.
CERN’s objective has always been to attract the best of the best, and web-based applications have helped the talent acquisition team reach an ever-increasing number of people and showcase what CERN can offer. There’s now a much greater emphasis on the excitement of what CERN does, and the value of each employee’s contribution towards the shared goal of understanding more about our Universe. And the net result? “We’ve succeeded in putting CERN on the map as an employer of choice – particularly for engineers and other professionals who previously thought you needed a PhD in physics to work for CERN.” says James.
But there are still areas where recruitment is a challenge.
“As early as the 1950s, CERN’s first annual reports identified difficulties in recruiting technicians,” explains James, “we had a problem to solve.” And this is how the Technician Training Experience (TTE) came about, offering technicians an opportunity to spend up to two years working as a Fellow at CERN. “It’s not a big programme in terms of the number of participants, but through a small change to the way we work, we’ve created unique opportunities for young technicians and a talent pipeline for future roles at CERN. It’s something I’m particularly proud of.” The TTE [link] has been extremely successful – some of the scheme’s graduates have moved into longer term positions at CERN whilst others have been snapped up by large scale science facilities and high tech businesses around Europe.
As the new Head of HR, James is embarking on a journey that will bring its own challenges; whilst physicists and engineers are busy achieving record breaking performances from today’s machines and proposing projects and experiments that could be many decades in the future, James has to make sure that CERN has the right people with the right skills to deliver them – not just today, but also for the future.
Building on the firm foundations laid down by his predecessor, Anne-Sylvie Catherin, James is already tackling these challenges with energy “One of our immediate concerns is demographic; with the low number of retirements, we want to maximise potential opportunities for staff to change jobs within CERN and improve longer term career prospects. However beyond 2023 we will have a dramatic increase in retirements; we already need a longer term view around succession planning and preparing the people who are going to ensure CERN’s continued success.
Staying close to the needs of the organisation is high on James’ agenda. “I want to make sure that HR’s heart beats in synch with the rest of the organisation,” he says, “I’m encouraging all members of HR department team to take every opportunity to meet the people behind the science and engineering, so that they can understand, anticipate and address issues pro-actively. We have a unique opportunity to work at an amazing place and should make every the most out of every moment here.”
Having been in his new role for just over a month, James is on a steep learning curve and finding that expecting the unexpected is daily business. Alongside the day-to-day departmental issues, there are meetings with all levels of management within CERN, as well as the Staff Association.
But after 26 years at CERN, what is it that maintains his obvious enthusiasm for the place? “I’m passionate about two things: the people and the purpose! CERN is built on collaboration and I feel privileged to work with such amazing people. As for CERN’s purpose, it’s a truly noble one: pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge is definitely a driving factor for me. I’m learning new things on a daily basis - from, and with my colleagues - constantly developing myself, and that’s a really powerful motivator!”
The need to bring countries together in the peaceful pursuit of a shared scientific goal is as relevant now as it was when CERN was set up more than 60 years ago.
After several years of actively growing the CERN community with the addition of new Member States, the focus is shifting slightly. New Member States will still be warmly welcomed – in July, the Romanian flag was added to those of the 21 other Member States proudly flying outside CERN’s main entrance – but reinforcing connections with existing Member States is one of the priorities for CERN’s new Director-General. Responsibility for developing these relationships has been given to Pippa Wells (CERN and ATLAS).
Pippa came to CERN 30 years ago as a summer student after seeing an advert on a noticeboard at Cambridge. Since then, she’s worked on a variety of projects and collaborations, building detectors, writing software and analysing data. Although she’s taken senior management roles within the ATLAS collaboration and chaired the committee that appoints CERN Fellows and Associates, the invitation to become Head of Member State Relations was definitely a surprise.
“It’s a much more political role,” explains Pippa, “and an extremely important role for the organisation. CERN itself is not a political organisation, but it exists in a highly politicised environment. Our Member States have lots of challenges and we need to ensure that they feel that their membership of CERN is appreciated and supported. When I first started at CERN, there were lots of energy frontier experiments around the world, but not now – the LHC is the energy frontier.”
What is clear is that a ’one size fits all’ approach won’t work across CERN’s 22 Member States. Some governments negotiate with CERN via their diplomatic Missions in Geneva, whilst others, like the UK, prefer to engage through research councils and the government department responsible for science.
One of Pippa’s first actions has been to help identify a senior staff member for each Member State as an additional point of contact for CERN management. For the UK, that’s Paul Collier, Head of Beams. The Member State Liaisons are appointed by the DG, and will help with VIP visits, engage with CERN Council members and offer a complementary perspective on CERN and its activities, and the context for high energy physics in each country.
Another task has been to pull together statistics on impact and fair share for each Member State – with most Member States facing pressures on funding, demonstrating the return on investment is critical. Easy access to data about the number of staff, fellows, students, industrial contracts or participation in teacher development programmes is essential for Member States to understand their return on investment, and Pippa wants to make gathering this information easier. There is also an ongoing initiative to set up Thematic Forums to share specialised information with the Member States.
There’s no such thing as a typical day and in her first six months in the role, Pippa has been busy, not least because the new appointment (which will last until the end of the current Director-General’s mandate in 2021) was unexpected and she has had to hand over some of her responsibilities within the ATLAS collaboration. But she’s not cut all ties to ATLAS, Tuesday afternoons are strictly reserved for physics.
At first glance, Pippa’s new role might seem quite different to that of a full-time physicist, but success in any project requires diplomacy, the ability to manage resources, organisational skills and leadership. And having a comprehensive understanding of CERN’s research programme is essential, “We need people in the International Relations Directorate to have strong science skills as well as diplomacy,” says Pippa, “all our visitors ask about the science!”
Writing your curriculum vitae
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The CERN recruitment team is going on tour this autumn to showcase job opportunities for students in a range of disciplines (business, finance, languages as well as engineering, computing and, of course, physics). Whether it’s the chance to spend a sandwich year at CERN as part of your undergraduate degree, join the summer student programme in the year before you graduate, become an intern or apply for a two year fellowship on completion of your Masters/PhD, there are lots of possibilities.
CERN is looking for outstanding candidates in both technical and administrative areas. The CERN recruitment team will be at careers fairs around the UK: