Unravelling the universe

FAU astrophysicists get involved in the Helmholtz Alliance

Over the next five years the Helmholz Association is to provide around ten million euros in funding for a new Helmholz Alliance in the field of astroparticle physics. Scientists belonging to the Erlangen Centre for Astroparticle Physics (ECAP) at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) are major contributors to the research association. In conjunction with experts from other German universities and both national and international research institutes, they are to search for dark matter and sources of cosmic radiation in the universe. In addition to this, the Helmholz Alliance also supports the development of new detectors which will be used in future experiments for research into the universe. Around one hundred scientists and ninety postgraduate students will collaborate in the Alliance.

“The Helmholz Alliance provides the relatively young field of astroparticle physics in Germany with an excellent opportunity to strengthen its profile at an institutional level and to assume a leading role on the international stage”, says Prof. Dr. Gisela Anton, director of ECAP and chair of the Department for Experimental Physics at the FAU. ECAP is the largest institute for astroparticle physics at a German university and is assuming an eminent role in the Alliance, not just on an institutional level but also in terms of research.

ECAP research projects
Erlangen researchers have assumed leading roles in numerous projects supported by the new Helmholz Alliance, including, for example the H.E.S.S project. H.E.S.S. (High Energy Stereoscopic System) is a telescope that measures gamma radiation. According to various physical theories this radiation can be produced in the proximity of gigantic cosmic accelerators which are believed to be the source of cosmic radiation. Another hypothesis is that gamma radiation is produced when two particles of dark matter meet. Measuring gamma radiation could therefore indirectly allow for conclusions to be drawn regarding dark matter. The H.E.S.S telescope is located in Namibia and Prof. Dr. Christopher van Eldik, holder of an Experimental Physics Professorship, is director of the H.E.S.S research project at FAU.

Erlangen astrophysicists are also involved in the ANTARES project which is jointly supervised by Prof. Dr. Gisela Anton and Prof. Dr. Uli Katz, chair of the Department for Experimental Physics (astroparticle physics) at the FAU. ANTARES is the name of a telescope that has been installed at a depth of 2,500 metres off the coast of Marseille in order to detect neutrinos. Neutrinos are high-energy elementary particles which are present in very large numbers in the universe. They are not visible to the human eye and pass through the retina leaving behind no evidence of their existence, just as they can pass through the earth’s diameter without leaving a trace. It is believed dark matter could be a possible source of neutrinos and tracing neutrinos back to dark matter is precisely the scientists’ aim.

Other ECAP projects are focusing their attention on the development of new detectors which are intended for future use in astroparticle physics. A research group led by Prof. Anton, for example, is working on an innovative hybrid photon detector, while Prof. Katz and his research group are developing acoustic sensors for detecting neutrinos and optic sensors for the KM3Net neutrino telescope. In the medium term, the KM3Net neutrino telescope is intended to replace the ANTARES telescope.

The Helmholz Alliance
Telescopes which detect neutrinos or gamma and X-ray radiation provide the scientists involved in the numerous independent research projects with a wealth of data. This data is to be pooled within the framework of the Helmholz Alliance. In doing so, the researchers hope to find out new information about dark matter and cosmic radiation. Germany hopes to become a world leader in terms of collaborative scientific work in the field of “Multi Messenger Astronomy” – and in doing so, raise the international profile of German research.

ECAP is not just extensively involved in ongoing experiments, but also in the planning of future research projects, such as the KM3NeT project which is to be the successor of ANTARES and the CTA project which is focused on developing new instruments for measuring gamma radiation. Furthermore, in a targeted attempt to introduce young research scientists to this complex interdisciplinary field of research, plans to set up a joint graduate school under the leadership of ECAP are also underway.

Further information for the media:

Prof. Dr. Gisela Anton
Tel.: 09131/85-27151