Vacation students at CERN, 1965

During the popular holiday months this summer, the normal CERN population decreased considerably as staff members took advantage of the fine weather for their vacations or departed to conferences and summer schools. Their absence was partially compensated, however, by a sizeable influx of visitors, many of whom came to CERN under the vacation-student programme. But it was only one of the secondary aims of this programme, when it began with 56 students in 1962, that participants should “provide assistance to CERN groups”; the principal purpose was rather to give a widely representative number of European students an idea of CERN and its work.

In 1965 a hundred young graduates and undergraduates, specializing in physics, electrical or electronic engineering, or mathematics, at 67 different universities in the Member States, spent from two to four months at the Laboratory. Since 1962 the number of places available has increased by over 20% every year, but the level of interest has risen at a similar rate so that in 1965, as in earlier years, it was only possible to accept one in five of the candidates.


The selection was carried out in collaboration with the leaders of the groups that had requested students, on the basis of confidential reports submitted by professors and supervisors, and care was exercised to ensure that each Member State was adequately represented. Those chosen were told of the assignments foreseen for them and offered appointments under which CERN paid travel expenses and a subsistence allowance for the duration of their stay in Geneva.

On arrival at CERN, each student was directed to the appropriate group, where he then took part in its day-to-day activities. About a third of the students were in the Nuclear Physics Division, where most were occupied in preparing or running experiments, for example, the study of resonance production in pion-proton interactions, or research into the quadrupole structure of heavy nuclei.

Another 27 students, who were allocated to the Track Chambers and Data Handling Divisions, were largely concerned with the analysis of bubble-chamber photographs, using the CDC 6600 computer.

Most of the others joined the Nuclear Physics Apparatus, Proton Synchrotron Machine and Accelerator Research Divisions, where they were given assignments in applied physics and engineering, such as studying high-voltage vacuum breakdown phenomena, evaluating particle detectors for monitoring PS beam losses, and computing beam blow-up in storage rings due to multiple scattering.

Lecture courses

A special series of more than 50 lectures was arranged to supplement the students’ practical experience and to give them an insight into the work of other groups at CERN. Many senior staff members and visitors gave individual lectures or short courses in the series, which lasted for a period of two months. The subjects covered a very wide range of interests. Physics lecturers included V F Weisskopf, B P Gregory, A M Wetherell and C G Morgan. Courses were given by H G Burkhardt and M Veltman on the theories of the strong and weak interactions respectively, and by F Louis on Fortran programming. There were also lectures on the proton synchrotron and synchro–cyclotron accelerators and the CDC 6600 computer, followed by guided visits to the installations. The lectures were well attended by the students: moreover, many staff members and visitors took advantage of the opportunity to learn about current developments in groups other than their own.

• Compiled from the article on p190


They arrive like migratory birds at the start of summer, departing as it draws to a close. They fill the canteens at peaks hours, trample the grass with their frisbee and handball games, bring the average age down considerably and brighten up the scene. They are the CERN summer students, previously called vacation students.

Lacking a student body of its own, each summer CERN organizes a concentrated programme of leading-edge experience and world class lectures and courses for undergraduates and young graduates. Initially the students were from member states but nowadays a sizeable number are from non-member states. This year 1603 students applied, 638 were considered and 143 were allocated places. Of the 143 successful candidates, 16% were from non-member states, 72% were physicists, 21% computer scientists, 5% engineers, and 27% were female. They stayed for an average of 10 weeks, 81% of them working in CERN’s Physics Department.

Participation in the programme is regarded as a privilege and carries considerable kudos. With some 6000 or more young scientists having benefited over the years, it would be interesting if someone were to set up a “CERN Summer Students Reunited” Web site to garner statistics on “what happens/ed afterwards” as well as share memories of times past.