CERN announces first recipients of ATLAS PhD Grant

With certificates, from left: Lailin Xu, Josefina Alconada, and Gagik Vardanyan. Selection committee members, from left: IFAE Barcelona’s Martine Bosman, Fabiola Gianotti, Peter Jenni and from CERN HR James Purvis (Image: ATLAS/ Claudia Marcelloni)

Three young scholars – Lailin Xu of China, Josefina Alconada of Argentina, and Gagik Vardanyan of Armenia – will be the first to benefit from the ATLAS PhD Grant, which will allow them to continue their PhD programmes at CERN this year.

Former ATLAS spokespersons Peter Jenni and Fabiola Gianotti started the fund with the Fundamental Physics Prize award money they received last year. Both have used the entirety of their prizes for educational and humanitarian programmes.

"We wanted to do something for students who are working on ATLAS, in particular those who otherwise could not come here and actually see the detector they are working on," says Jenni. "What better use of the award than make it possible for such students?"

"This funding makes such a difference," says Alconada, who is working on the spin of the Higgs boson at the University of La Plata in Argentina. "It will allow me to stay at CERN for one more year – where I can attend meetings, give presentations, and go to people’s offices to ask questions directly."

"For people like us, from non-member states whose institutes can't afford to send them here, this is so encouraging," says Vardanyan, of Yerevan Physics Institute in Armenia, who is working on precision measurements for Quantum Chromodynamics. "I couldn’t believe it when I saw the email."

Lailin Xu had returned home to China after his funding to study in the US ran out. His supervisor brought him to CERN on her own personal funding so he could continue his work on Standard Model cross-section measurements. Xu was working in the ATLAS cavern, 100 metres below ground, when he received the email informing him that he had received the scholarship.

"I didn’t think I had a chance – that it was meant more for Europeans and people from member states – and then I got that email. I was really happy." says Xu.

 All three of the students say that the experience has already taught them something: to pass it forward, and invest in education.

"In countries like ours, there are brilliant people but access to opportunities is limited. Scholarships like these make a huge difference of where we head," says Alconada.

The ATLAS PhD Grant covers two years of PhD thesis funding for about eight talented and motivated young researchers, with some emphasis on choosing those with limited financial resources. The students will spend one year at CERN and another back at their home institute. The initiative is also open to those interested in contributing to the fund and making it possible to sustain the programme.