Joint RSA-JINR summer school programme for university students at iThemba LABS

News, 28 February 2024

From 15 January to 2 February 2024, the Republic of South Africa hosted a three-week RSA-JINR Summer School. Ten delegates from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research visited Cape Town to deliver presentations in different scientific fields.

This year, students from three South African universities gathered at the school’s usual venue, iThemba LABS. The laboratory hosted a number of tours around its facilities. In addition, the students made presentations during the programme as part of their evaluation.

JINR staff from VBLHEP, FLNR, FLNP, and UC organized many hours’ worth of events, including lectures, seminars, workshops, and JINR exhibition activities. The events were complemented by lecturers from multiple South African universities and education institutions to provide an in-depth look at as many scientific topics as possible during the Summer School programme.

Director of the JINR University Centre Dr Dmitry Kamanin made a presentation on a brief history of JINR, its main facilities, and international collaborations, highlighting opportunities for the students to further their careers at JINR both through the Summer School programme and outside of it.

Caren Rossouw introduced the students to Russian culture and religion and taught them a few basic Russian phrases. During the programme, lecturers from around the world introduced the students to various topics, including accelerator technologies, AI and machine learning, data analysis and ML techniques, nuclear medicine, computing in HEP, and many more.

A VBLHEP employee Nikita Sidorov spoke to the students about the development and tasks of the NICA Accelerator Complex. The lecture also dealt with colliders of the 21st century.

Prof. Yuri Panebrattsev, Head of the Department of Development of Educational Programmes and the Virtual Laboratory project, gave introductory lectures about detectors and nuclear reactions in fundamental and applied research. Young scientists Nikita Lashmanov and Vinh Ba Luong conducted seminars accompanying these lectures, telling the students about the triggering systems of BM@N and MPD experiments at JINR, and the application of time-projection chambers in collider experiments.

As part of the Virtual Laboratory project, workshops on experimental nuclear physics took place. Kseniya Klygina taught the students how to work with nuclear electronics. The students also participated in workshops on virtual gamma spectroscopy and learned how to calibrate spectrometers, analyse energy spectra, and identify unknown radioactive sources.

One day of the educational programme was devoted to the ROOT practicum. Nikita Lashmanov and Vinh Ba Luong gave a lecture and conducted a workshop on the basics of processing experimental data in the ROOT system, which is used worldwide.

During lectures and a hands-on workshop by Dr Grzegorz Kaminski, the students had the chance to conduct physical measurements of various types of radioactive sources using different types of portable detectors, such as Geiger-Mueller counters and NaJ(Tl) scintillation spectrometers. They also determined radiation shielding types and thickness by measuring the absorption coefficients of gamma radiation in matter, defining the characteristic peaks in the radiation spectrum and making calculations of silicon detectors.

Dr Ulyana Pinaeva (FLNR) presented nanostructuring of polymers using ionizing radiation, while Dr Semen Mitrofanov (FLNR) taught the students about Single Event Effects (SEEs), which are individual events that occur when a single incident ionising particle deposits enough energy to cause an effect in a device.

In addition, multimedia JINR Exhibition was presented in the main hall of iThemba LABS. The Summer School students and iThemba LABS staff were given an overview of the main facilities of JINR and used VR technology to examine the corners of the NICA Accelerator Complex and see the construction of the Neutrino Telescope at Baikal Lake in detail, while also using AR technology to participate in experiments.

At the end of the school, the students were asked to provide feedback regarding their experience of the programme. Cornel de Villiers from the University of Stellenbosch referred to it as a “very good crash course” and advised the students to choose a specialisation as early as possible. Busi from Johannesburg University expressed enjoyment in the biochemistry portion of the course, noting that “people shouldn’t limit themselves”. Xleyani Precious Mgwena, also from the University of Johannesburg, emphasised that the course provides students with the chance to explore scientific fields other than the ones they specialise in and enhances their scientific capabilities by teaching important research skills. The student noted that the experience and knowledge gained during the programme had a profound impact on her.

The highly positive feedback from the students contributes to the success of the annual programme and the more extensive RSA-JINR collaboration as a whole. This was further supported by the signing of an agreement between the JINR and iThemba LABS directors on 29 January 2024 in Dubna, Russia, to open a new JINR Information Centre at iThemba LABS during the course of 2024 to spread awareness and strengthen the already fruitful scientific bonds.