Summer thirst for science

Aug 24, 2018

Antonella del Rosso, at CERN since 1992.
In her career, Antonella was initially involved with research (NA48 experiment) and then moved to a career focused on science communication. Today, she is the CERN Alumni Communication Officer.

After many summers spent figuring out what options would keep my kids entertained, finally, this summer I decided that it was time to recharge my own batteries. And, by “batteries”, I actually mean my neurons: I needed to rediscover that special feeling omnipresent in those rare places in the world where new generations are busy envisioning the future of this planet. One is CERN in Geneva, where I am lucky enough to work. But there are other such destinations in the world and a privileged one is certainly Boston, in the US. There, the concentration of colleges and “thinkers” of tomorrow’s world is formidable. You can find student campuses in every corner of the town, each one with its specificity and research specialty. Harvard, a completely open campus, welcomes you with its history and the pride of being “The University”. A former Harvard faculty member proudly told me that “…simply having a Harvard email address opens more doors than years spent in the majority of the other university colleges around the world”. 

But it’s at MIT that I had the opportunity to fully immerse myself and breath in the air of research and experimentation. I saw students armed with really weird looking hand-made electronic tools to measure “something” around the campus. I initially didn’t dare ask but then curiosity got the better of me and one young student explained that he and his friends were testing an algorithm to predict the flux of visitors in the hallways and around the campus. They were just keeping themselves entertained over this summer period, of course! At MIT I spent hours wandering around the hallways (did you know that over 50 buildings at MIT are interconnected through a network of tunnels and bridges?), taking in names on the doors, peering inside the various labs (yes, you can look inside the labs!), at all the boards on the walls (some are really amazing!), as well as the cafeteria. The maze of halls, rooms, labs, buildings made me think that the next time visitors complain that they can’t find their way in CERN I will show them a map of MIT!

In Boston I had the opportunity to discuss with various people about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its main facets: from humanoid AI to industry developed boxes that can tell your age from a simple photograph (an exercise I would never recommend!). And if the Boston Library, with its history, takes you back to several centuries ago, all the informal chats I had in the various colleges made me realise that these researchers are already living in the future. What is “present” for us is the distant past for them. My neurons were definitely recharged by simply breathing that air and I am sure that in 5 years’ time I will write somewhere “Yes, I know this piece of equipment, I spoke with the developer when I visited Boston in 2018”! 
Which, by the way, reminds me of my first summer at CERN when I listened to Tim Berners-Lee presenting the WEB in a packed Main Auditorium. Indeed, as the giant posters of the MIT main entrance say, at CERN we also believe in Innovation, Passion, Research, and Education to build a better world. 

I guess many readers work in Boston or in other inspiring places. What do you do to quench you thirst for science in the summer? 
 

*) This article is illustrated with a photo-collage of the four corners of the MIT main entrance hall. The giant posters read: Innovation, Passion, Research, Education for a better world. 


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