CERN Gave Me a Second PhD

Nov 13, 2020
Charis Kouzinopoulos
CERN Alumnus: Charis Kouzinopoulos
At CERN: 2014- 2016 Senior Research Fellow within the ALICE Collaboration
Today: Researcher and R&D manager at Centre for Research and Technology Hellas, Greece (CERTH)


EU project collaborations plant the seed.

Charis came to CERN in 2014, fresh from finishing his PhD in Computer Science at the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, Greece. During his PhD thesis, Charis worked on two different projects, which enabled him to collaborate - remotely - with CERN (EGEE-II, EGEE-III) EGEE was The Enabling Grids for E-sciencE in Europe project that concluded in April 2010. According to the description of the project: “The creation of the largest collaborative production grid infrastructure in the world for e‐science, demonstrating that such a production infrastructure can be used by a wide range of research disciplines, and producing scientific results in these disciplines which would otherwise not have been possible.”
“This is where my first experience with CERN began. I enjoyed the collaboration so much that I started thinking that although working remotely with CERN was good, if I work even harder, maybe I can even find a position which will allow me to physically work at CERN!”
Charis’s dream became reality when he landed a senior research fellowship within the ALICE collaboration in 2014. “My first impressions of CERN were that it was amazing, I was utterly excited to be part of the world’s biggest experiment and one of the largest research centres in the world. It was a new adventure; it was extremely exciting be part of and contribute to CERN’s success.”

Charis and Friends in CERN's Underground Facilities

Whilst working in the ALICE Collaboration, Charis’ work focused on several areas, one of which consisted of researching efficient distribution of Big Data for the upgraded ALICE detector, expected to produce more than a terabyte of data per second during the RUN3 period of the LHC. More specifically, the total data volume collected will increase significantly reaching a sustained data throughput of up to 3 TB/s. Charis explained that the uniqueness of CERN is principally down to the quality of CERN’s human capital.
“I was extremely impressed by the quality of people working at CERN. Not only in terms of the highly collaborative atmosphere, but also in terms of people’s ethics and their willingness to exchange ideas, good working practices and skills. I learnt so many useful things at CERN, which I am applying in my current role.”

Leveraging the CERN professional experience

Charis’s fellowship ended in December 2016 and although he had considered trying to pursue his career at CERN, he decided, for a variety of reasons, to leave the region and return to his home town of Thessaloniki, in Greece. Almost immediately after, Charis received an offer from CERTH (the Centre for Research & Technology, Hellas), one of the leading research institutions in Greece, in the fields of Informatics, Telematics and Telecommunications.
“My career transition from CERN to CERTH was relatively easy. First, it was a huge plus to have CERN as a professional experience on my CV. In my opinion, employing someone who has worked at CERN is so desirable because a professional experience at CERN equips you so well; one is plunged into a collaborative and international environment, where one can learn from highly skilled people. I felt that being at CERN gave me a second PhD, I learnt so much.”

A European endeavour stretching the limits of Electronic Smart Systems

Charis is now a researcher and R&D manager at the Information Technologies Institute within CERTH, and is managing the European Union, Horizon 2020 project AMANDA, (AutonoMous self powered miniAturized iNtelligent sensor for environmental sensing anD asset tracking in smArt IoT environments).
“I manage the consortium of eight different research institutes, universities and SMEs from six different E.U. countries. Our goal is to create a miniaturised computing system, of similar dimensions to a credit card, which includes many different sensors, such as temperature, humidity, imaging and CO2. It collects data from its surrounding environment and then computes and processes data using machine learning and Artificial Intelligence algorithms, the output of which, it transmits to the end user.”

The AMANDA project began in 2019 and the typical applications for which it was initially designed were for smart living and working environments. For instance, a user can monitor his or her office to ensure that luminosity, temperature and air quality are adapted to a healthy work environment. If not, an alarm is sent to the user’s smart phone so that the conditions can be improved.

The Need to Pivot and fight COVID19

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020 and through direct contact with the European Commission, AMANDA is being developed with the purpose of mitigating the effects of COVID-19 and other future pandemics.
“The AMANDA cards can also contain an imaging sensor and can be placed on the ceilings of supermarkets, cafeterias or any other location where capacity needs to be monitored due to COVID-19 restrictions. These cards are able to detect the number of people on the premises and trigger an alarm if the permitted number of patrons is exceeded.”
The first AMANDA prototype has just been released. At the moment it is not miniaturised and is approximately two to three times the expected size, but within the next 18 months Charis and his team plan to miniaturise the card, extend the development and focus on the system’s energy consumption. After the conclusion of the project, their next step will be to commercialise the product.

An Expanding cross borders Team

Charis and some members of the AMANDA team

Charis explains that AMANDA is expanding rapidly, so they are looking to enlarge the current team. Currently, there are two open positions, one for someone with experience in embedded systems and digital circuits and an interest in PCB design and a second for someone who is a skilled C/C++ programmer with experience in Cyber Security.
“I have posted the opportunities on the CERN Alumni Network, but anyone interested can contact me directly as I can provide all the necessary details about the type of candidate we have in mind. The successful candidates would be working on the CERTH campus, and whilst the team is predominantly Greek, as their working language is English, it would be easy for a non-Greek to integrate the team. I would be delighted if we manage to recruit from within the CERN Alumni Network!”  
Charis explains further that the current team on site consists of eight people, divided into two sub teams, one working on hardware and the other on software. One hundred percent of Charis’s time at CERTH is dedicated to managing the CERTH team and the consortium. Whilst at CERN, Charis did not have the opportunity to take on a managerial role, but he observed those who managed the teams in which he worked, which helped him transition into such a role. With the consortium members located across borders, I was curious to understand the challenges of managing such a scattered team.
“Indeed, I manage a cross border team which can be complicated, but all the partners are actively working towards our common goal and purpose; AMANDA. I am very happy with our collaboration. COVID-19 certainly aggravated the situation, but I apply the excellent project management techniques I learnt at CERN; agile project management methodology, as well as regular meetings and discussions so we remain fully focused.”

Outreach and National TV

Thanks to the success of the AMANDA prototype, Charis has been enjoying the limelight of Greek National Television. With science communication and outreach being key in defeating fake news, I was interested if Charis also devotes some of this time to this subject.
“I come from a big family of journalists, so I am familiar with this environment, but the recent TV appearance was my first in front of the camera, and I LOVED it. I am involved in outreach of a kind as I lecture at the local university. I teach three under graduate classes, algorithms and the theory of graphs, distributed systems and finally, algorithms and complexity. This is also something I love doing, sharing new knowledge and information with the younger generation, encouraging them to become scientists.”
Charis joined the CERN alumni network relatively early on, but has only recently become a member of the CERN Alumni Athens regional group. He explains views on the benefits CERN alumni network,
“The High Energy Network provides an excellent means for members to stay in touch with other CERN people. I have not leveraged it as much as I would like, but I sincerely hope that it helps us recruit from within the CERN Alumni Community.  Additionally, I would really enjoy sharing what I am up to professionally with other members and hear what other alumni across the world are doing. This could be a nice idea for an event, which I’d be delighted to take part in.”

Thank you for sharing your story with us Charis, we hope this article raises plenty of interest for your job openings as well as two successful candidates and we look forward to seeing you on our screens soon!  
Author Rachel Bray (CERN)


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