A Great Career Starter
At CERN: 2017 Summer Student
Today: Research Associate at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California
OAR: When did you come to CERN as a Summer Student and what did you work on?
Amitabh: I came to CERN as a summer student in 2017 and I joined the ATLAS Inner Detector team to work on the development of back-end FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) readout firmware for FE-I4 silicon pixel chip. Upon the phase-II upgrade, the pixel chip will be located in the Inner Tracker of the ATLAS Detector and will detect charged particles originating during every collision event at the HL-LHC (High Luminosity LHC). The firmware is responsible for the routing of services and improving the data quality for HL-LHC.
OAR: What is your best memory of working at CERN?
Amitabh: I absolutely loved the research I was assigned. It was a learning experience that has and will continue to guide me for years. Nevertheless, the best memory is certainly the friends I made and who, until today, are some of my closest friends. Living on Route Marie Curie, at Building 38, we shared our rooms with fellow summies. After work, we assembled in the kitchen talking about something new every day. It was the B38 kitchen where some of the best ideas were discussed, some of the best food was shared, some of the best talents were presented and surely, some of the best trips were planned.
Oh! Did I mention, I also got to say hi to Nobel Laureate, Jack Steinberger and Nuclear Physicist, Hélène Langevin-Joliot (Granddaughter of Pierre and Marie Curie) both close to B38.
OAR: What are you currently doing and where are you located?
Amitabh: Presently, I am a Research Associate in the Physics (ATLAS HEP Group) Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in California, USA. I am currently developing Quantum Algorithms for High-Energy Physics applications, specifically Charged-particle Track Reconstruction under the supervision of Dr Heather Gray. Quantum Algorithms have the potential to provide orders of magnitude improvements in speed, space and precision parameters. Better track reconstruction algorithms can help transform our ability to select and analyse challenging signatures of new physics, e.g. long-lived particles or high mass particles decaying to dense particle jets. Therefore, Quantum Algorithms may significantly expand the HEP discovery potential for new particles and interactions.
OAR: What skills did you develop during your CERN Summer Student experience which have been particularly useful in your subsequent career trajectory?
Amitabh: My summer student experience helped me gain my first experience in FPGA firmware development and Hardware-Software co-design. I got the chance to implement the digital design techniques I learnt as an undergraduate to develop a highly precise system. My experience as a summer student brought me closer to Physics. Subsequently, I went ahead to specialize in Quantum Computing during my Masters. The RTL design methods for FPGA such as, 8b/10b encoding and MGT communication protocols came in handy during my Master thesis work, where I worked on the FPGA firmware for control of a Spin-Qubit Quantum processors.
OAR: What skills did you need to develop further when you left CERN to face your next challenge?
Amitabh: My summer student experience made me realize my unexplored curiosity for pursuing Physics. I developed an interest in applying my knowledge in Electronics and Computer Engineering for Experimental Physics. Therefore, upon leaving CERN, I spent some time to learn relevant topics in Physics such as Quantum Mechanics, Special Relativity and Particle Physics. The practical exposure in the labs at CERN also informed me of advanced methods in Electronic System Design and High Speed Design. Such topics often do not appear in academic textbooks and having an exposure to these topics early on at CERN, was a big plus.
OAR: Would you recommend the CERN Summer Student programme to other people?
Amitabh: CERN summer student program is the best thing that ever happened to me! As an undergraduate, if anyone would have told me that one day I'd visit a foreign country, I probably would not have believed them. But then, CERN happened. CERN summer student program will be the best internship of your life. No cap.
It was my first opportunity to travel alone out of my country, make new friends from (literally) all around the world, host food fests (potlock), play 'name the scientist' at R1 (Restaurant 1), get the 'Introduction to Particle Physics' lectures at the summer student lecture series in the same hall where the Higgs Boson's discovery was announced, and learn under the supervision of absolutely the best scientists. If you're smart, you can even find a spot in the CERN Openlab Summer Student visits (like I did! ;).
Apart from all the great activities, if you're lucky, you'll also take back a genuine curiosity to learn, explore and to ask unanswered questions. After all of this, an experience at CERN is definitely a big plus for all kinds of career prospects in the future.
OAR: What advice would you give your younger self?
Amitabh: Looking back, I would only tell my younger self that all the advanced engineering originates from the basics and you must focus your utmost attention towards learning them. The undergraduate years are the best time to lay the foundations for an extremely promising career in science. Even during graduate years, we have go back to the undergrad syllabus to revise the concepts that were probably not clear before. Even industry looks for a candidate with a strong understanding of his basics. So, be sincere in everything you learn.
OAR: Do you still follow up on what’s going on at CERN?
Amitabh: I regularly stay updated on the major activities at CERN and especially at ATLAS collaboration. I am still in touch with my supervisors from the summer student program and I met them again in 2018 when I attended the first Quantum Computing for HEP meet at CERN. I also specially follow the updates from CERN openlab on Quantum Computing initiatives, which is my current field of study.
OAR: In your opinion, what is the unique value of the CERN Alumni Network?
Amitabh: CERN Alumni network is unique in the sense that it helps us stay connected to people working in diverse field of studies. CERN houses experts from all fields, some of whom may later move on to work in a different industry - their combined expertise and experience at CERN and industry, both, is unique. The groups and jobs network at the Alumni network are very strong, and is certainly a great way to look for different career prospects.
OAR: What is your proudest achievement?
Amitabh: My proudest achievement was to get one of the highest grades - 9 out of 10 - for my Master Thesis at TU Delft, the Netherlands. My thesis on design of FPGA control firmware for Spin-Qubit Quantum Processor was performed at QuTech, in collaboration with Intel Quantum Computing Lab, Hillsboro. The topic tested my understanding of concepts from electronics, quantum information science and computer engineering and took nearly a year to complete. I managed to complete the thesis with favourable outcomes while also securing a job position at LBNL in California. Even though the times may be stressful, I feel, if we put in the honest hard work, all things will fall into the right places.