On the hunt for dark matter
Opening ceremony of the PRISMA Cluster of Excellence / EUR 35 million to promote top-level research in particle and hadron physics
09.11.2012Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) inaugurated its "Precision Physics, Fundamental Interactions and Structure of Matter" (PRISMA) Cluster of Excellence. About 250 scientists have now officially begun their work in this new research association, which was approved in the most recent phase of the German Excellence Initiative by the German federal and state governments. Over the next five years, the cluster will be funded with about EUR 35 million from the German government, the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, for performing top-level research in particle and hadron physics. Mainz has thus established itself as the center for particle and hadron physics in Germany and the world.
"We are very proud of the achievements of the PRISMA Cluster of Excellence in view of the tough competition we faced from other universities throughout Germany," said the President of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Professor Dr. Georg Krausch. The fact that our core research in particle and hadron physics performed so well in the Excellence Initiative illustrates the international standing of the scientists working at JGU. I would like to express my utmost appreciation and deep gratitude to everyone involved for the great performance and commitment. PRISMA is composed of leading research groups whose global scientific reputation is well-established through publications, awards, and their excellent positions in national and international rankings. For example, the DFG Funding Atlas 2012 shows that Physics and Mathematics at Mainz University attract the highest levels of third-party funding in Germany. "Moreover, its success also confirms that we are proceeding in the right direction by focusing on science and research at our university," the President continued. "The additional funding from the Excellence Initiative provides our university with an excellent foundation to continue down this path, as will be reflected by further success in future competitions."
The scientists involved in PRISMA pursue the fundamental questions about the structure of matter and the fundamental forces at work in the universe, including the experimental detection of dark matter or the properties of particles at the smallest accessible length scales. The construction and operation of large research facilities in Mainz for the international community of particle and hadron physicists are specifically intended to answer such questions. Approximately EUR 10 million are planned to be invested in the construction of the novel particle accelerator MESA, i.e., the Mainz Energy-Recovering Superconducting Accelerator. What is particularly innovative here is that MESA can achieve immense intensity at much lower energy costs compared to conventional accelerators. "MESA is the first of its kind in the world," said Professor Dr. Hartmut Wittig, one of the two PRISMA spokespersons, who hopes to find experimental evidence for the nature of dark matter in the universe using the new accelerator. "Specifically, we want to use MESA to track down the dark photon, which mediates the interaction between the visible matter known to us and dark matter."
The construction of an international center for theoretical physics, the Mainz Institute for Theoretical Physics (MITP), is already in full swing. Researchers from the international community will be able to conduct research programs and workshops on current issues. In addition, MITP will offer public lectures on exciting developments in particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology to a non-expert audience. "Such an institute does not yet exist in Germany," says Professor Neubert, the other PRISMA spokesperson and designated director of the MITP. "The establishment of MITP will allow us to fill a gap in the German research landscape."
An additional step is the expansion of the existing research reactor TRIGA into an international research facility. Furthermore, PRISMA researchers participate extensively in important experiments around the world. The most noteworthy experiments include the ATLAS experiment at the European research center CERN in Switzerland, the XENON experiment at Gran Sasso in Italy, and the IceCube project in Antarctica.
The Minister of Science for the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, Doris Ahnen, also recognized the success of PRISMA in the German Excellence Initiative: "The start of funding for PRISMA is the culmination of years of hard work and an internationally renowned success story for both Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and, in particular, Mainz physicists, whom I am very proud." The state has made an important financial contribution especially within the framework of its research initiative. In total, EUR 100 million will be available to the four Rhineland-Palatinate universities until 2013, in addition to their basic funding. This money will be used solely to promote and sustain research so that strong research associations can be established and expanded. Thereby, researchers will benefit from an unparalleled infrastructure.