PRISMA+ Cluster of Excellence: Double award by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Humboldt Research Fellowship for Joanna Sobczyk / Matthias Schott selected as Humboldt Scout

5 February 2021

Double cause for celebration at the PRISMA+ Cluster of Excellence at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU): Dr. Joanna Sobczyk, who has been conducting research as a postdoc in Professor Sonia Bacca's group at the JGU Institute for Nuclear Physics since the beginning of 2020, has been awarded a Humboldt Research Fellowship. Professor Matthias Schott, Professor of Experimental Particle Physics at PRISMA+, was selected as a Humboldt Scout in the context of the Henriette Herz Scouting Program. This enables him to propose up to three junior researchers for a direct award of the Humboldt Research Fellowship and invite them to Mainz. Humboldt Scouts were appointed for the first time for this new access to Humboldt Research Fellowships parallel to the regular application procedure. Joanna Sobczyk and Matthias Schott were able to convince the selection committees of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation with innovative research proposals and recruiting concepts. These awards thus also support the promotion of young researchers and internationalization as important structural goals of the Cluster of Excellence PRISMA+.

Joanna Sobczyk: Understanding neutrino physics from scratch

Dr. Joanna Sobczyk is fascinated by neutrinos, those ghostly particles that penetrate our Earth millions of times over, yet are very difficult to detect and understand. With new planned experiments – such as the DUNE experiment in the USA – scientists want to investigate some fundamental neutrino properties in more detail, for example the phenomenon that the three types of neutrinos are constantly transforming into each other, called neutrino oscillation. To do this, they need important information from theoretical calculations. Dr. Joanna Sobczyk is specifically concerned with the question of how neutrinos interact with atomic nuclei. "This is where two research areas of the PRISMA+ Cluster of Excellence meet, so to speak, namely high-energy physics and nuclear physics," she explained. "I want to calculate very precisely from scratch – starting from the fundamental theories we have – what happens when a neutrino hits an atomic nucleus." From this, models can be developed and processes simulated, which in turn are essential for experimental colleagues to perform and interpret their experiments. In Professor Sonia Bacca's group at Mainz university, Sobczyk finds ideal conditions for her theoretical research, because the group is very successful in predicting properties of the atomic nucleus that can be derived from the forces between the nuclear components – the nucleons – and their interactions. Specifically, Sobczyk plans to calculate the interaction of neutrinos with nuclei of the elements oxygen (16O) and argon (40Ar), both of which will play important roles in later neutrino experiments.

Dr. Joanna Sobczyk has been conducting postdoctoral research in Mainz since January 2020. She was initially funded by the Irène Joliot-Curie Program with a Fellowship for Transition Periods, a program initiated by PRISMA+ to facilitate the transition of excellent young female scientists from their PhD to their first postdoc position and to encourage them to follow the scientific career path. The successful application for a Humboldt Research Fellowship now offers her the opportunity to consistently pursue her research projects.

Matthias Schott: Talent scout in particle physics

Global exchange in the context of his research is nothing new for Professor Matthias Schott: "Work in experimental particle physics is characterized by large international collaborations from all over the world. Collaborations and diversity are therefore always a key component in successfully implementing my research agenda." So what could be more natural than applying as a research scout? "The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation's newly launched program is a unique opportunity to expand our research network and at the same time inspire young scientific talent to work in Germany," emphasized Schott.

His concept envisages a multi-stage selection process – and transfers ideas to the international stage which he already regularly uses in Mainz with his team. To appeal young talents, Professor Matthias Schott will donate prizes for the best contribution of young scientists at selected congresses and then invite the winners to give a more detailed presentation in Mainz. "I would like to target exactly those young researchers for a future Humboldt Fellowship," said Schott. The final decision is then made by a specially established selection committee, which includes team members as well as other researchers from the university. However, the future fellows should not only do research, but also be involved in teaching and supervision and have the opportunity to select students for a two-month internship. For Professor Matthias Schott, this is the "perfect starting point for gaining a foothold at a faculty or for setting up one's own research group."