Summer internship at the MPP

Julia Summerer has just graduated from high school. She is currently doing an internship at the Max Planck Institute for Physics, more precisely with the "MAGIC" working group. The scientists in this group are working on two large telescopes of an international research collaboration on the Canary Island of La Palma (Spain). The MAGIC telescopes observe gamma rays from the universe - the most energetic radiation we know. It is emitted, for example, by black holes or stellar explosions.

Julia Summerer attaches a photomultiplier to the holder. (Photo: Felix Schmuckermaier/MPP)

The experimental setup: The photomultiplier is placed in front of the lens through which the light passes. (Photo: Felix Schmuckermaier/MPP)

Julia Summerer and MPP doctoral student Felix Schmuckermaier analyze experimental data. (Photo: MPP)

The MAGIC telescopes on La Palma (Photo: MAGIC Collaboration)

Julia, what made you decide to do an internship at the Max Planck Institute for Physics?

I want to study physics, but I am aware that my physics school knowledge does not correspond to what awaits me at university. An acquaintance made me aware of the internship opportunities at the MPP. After my application, I was soon accepted for a six-week internship in the MAGIC group. MAGIC is a project that uses giant telescopes to observe the gamma spectrum in the universe.

How well do you get on with the research topic?

It was a bit difficult to get started because the project is very complex and has little to do with my school knowledge. However, that rather motivated me: I wanted to understand the ideas, the research approaches and concepts in detail in order to be able to find my own place in the group. Therefore, I first walked through the offices and laboratories and had the researchers explain to me what they were doing and how they were proceeding. Soon I was able to get an idea of how the project works and how international groups work together.

What are you currently working on?

In the meantime, I am making my own small contribution to the further development of the MAGIC telescopes. The telescopes register Cherenkov radiation. This is a blue light that is produced after high-energy gamma rays hit the Earth's atmosphere. These flashes of light are extremely short and faint. They are captured by mirrors, focused and then "photographed" by a camera. With the help of these measurements, various processes in the universe can be traced, for example gamma-ray bursts or novae. This is where my task comes in: I am measuring new photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) from a company in Japan. These are in principle single photocells of the camera, which amplify the weak Cherenkov light. The new PMTs are supposed to achieve a much higher quantum efficiency, or in other words, they have the potential to improve specific measurements because they are more sensitive to light.

And what does the testing look like?

In a laboratory, we measure the PMTs in specially made boxes. To do this, we expose them to light at different wavelengths. The test has turned out to be more complex than expected and has been going on for several weeks because there are several problems. At first, this bothered me because it held up our measurements. But now I appreciate it because I learn something new every time. Sometimes it's a resistor or a simple bug in the program or a deuterium lamp not working properly. The team at the MPP is also very open when I have questions, don't understand something or can't follow a train of thought. They explain things to me simply and with comparisons that are close to everyday life, so that I can easily understand them. Thus, I can have my say and contribute my own ideas and suggestions and work with them to solve the problems.

What do you like in particular?

Within a few days, I learned how to program in Python thanks to two of my teammates. In the meantime, I work with it independently and use the program for my lab measurements of the PMTs. I speak in different languages every day, since my team comes from all over the world. The internship turned out to be much more versatile than I ever expected: be it in-depth work in physics, lectures on individual topics or a taster day in the PR team – I’m learning new things every tim