CERN alumnus: Urban Senica At CERN:2016 Summer Student Today:PhD in Physics at ETH Zürich
OAR: When did you come to CERN as a Summer Student and what did you work on? Urban: I first came to CERN in the Summer of 2016. I joined the EP-DT-DD: Solid State Detectors group which focuses on the development and characterization of radiation-hard semiconductor detectors. Specifically, I worked on TRACS, a simulation software that computes the induced transient currents when a charged particle hits the detector, and it also includes models for radiation damaged detectors. This was a project started by two previous Summer Students in the group, and my main task was to parallelize the code and make the program run more efficiently.
OAR: What is your best memory of working at CERN? Urban: It is impossible to choose a single best memory of my time at CERN, since it was such a great mix of enjoyable activities! Besides working on my project, following lectures and doing hands-on lab workshops, much to my surprise there was a lot going on outside the labs – we were playing ultimate frisbee, following a salsa dance course, and attended CERN's very own Hardronic music festival! Staying at the CERN Hotel with other Summer Students was also quite a unique experience, making new friends and cooking together in the kitchen, or hanging out next to R1. On the weekends we also did many trips together, like going to the legendary Montreux Jazz Festival or staying in Chamonix, taking the cable car up to admire the view of Mont Blanc.
OAR: What are you currently doing and where are you located?
Urban: I'm currently doing a PhD in Physics at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, where I'm focusing on terahertz quantum cascade lasers (QCLs). In contrast to conventional semiconductor lasers, where the emission wavelength is determined by the material band gap, in QCLs it can be tuned by the thickness of individual layers in the semiconductor heterostructure, which unlocks a whole new spectrum of interesting possibilities. The work is quite diverse and I'm enjoying it!
OAR: What skills did you develop during your CERN Summer Student experience which have been particularly useful in your subsequent career trajectory? Urban: Besides specific technical/programming skills that I acquired during my project, I also learned about working in a multi-cultural environment and improved my communication skills. It was also my first time living and working abroad!
OAR: What skills did you need to develop further when you left CERN to face your next challenge? Urban: Now during my PhD, I had to learn how to teach classes and supervise students. Additionally, for becoming an independent researcher it's important to develop your own research vision, so to see the bigger picture beyond what you are working on today or this week.
OAR: Would you recommend the CERN Summer Student programme to other people? Urban: Absolutely, for me this was the best summer in my life (so far)! It really is an amazing experience both in the professional and personal sense. It also opens many doors for a later career in research or industry, and gives you a big picture perspective – it doesn't matter where you come from, we can all work together for a better future.
OAR: What advice would you give your younger self? Urban: Don't overthink everything! Just be confident and do your best, and usually everything turns out fine in the end.
OAR: Do you still follow up on what is going on at CERN? Urban: Yes, absolutely! I'm actively following CERN news on different channels and I am still in contact with my friends, my old supervisor and research group. Whenever I am at CERN, I visit them and bring some cake (there is a nice cake/dessert culture in the group).
OAR: In your opinion, what is the unique value of the CERN Alumni Network? Urban: Beyond being a rich network of CERN Alumni and an extraordinary talent pool, it connects members also through the local communities: we had an event in Zurich and I'm looking forward to more! Being relatively close to CERN, I also manage to attend many events organized at CERN: I participated in the CERN Alumni First Collisions, 30 Years of the World Wide Web, and most recently the CERN Open Days.
OAR: What is your proudest achievement? Urban: Besides my summer at CERN, a recent proud moment was when my first paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal. It was a nice complete project from start to finish: from design and numerical simulations to cleanroom fabrication and measurements in the optics lab.