Exploring the Strong Interaction in the Universe – European research award for nuclear physicist Achim Schwenk
Achim Schwenk, Professor of Physics at the Technical University (TU) Darmstadt and Max Planck Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, has been awarded a prestigious Advanced Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). His research project „Exploring the Universe through Strong Interactions“ (EUSTRONG) will be funded with around 2.3 million euros over a period of five years. This is already the second ERC grant for Professor Schwenk.
The goal of the EUSTRONG project is to explore the Strong Interaction, one of the four fundamental forces of nature, in the Universe. The Strong Interaction is responsible for holding neutrons and protons together in the atomic nucleus and for understanding the densest observable matter inside neutron stars. In addition, atomic nuclei play a key role in the search for dark matter and in the study of the lightest neutrino particles. EUSTRONG will enable new discoveries in the physics of the Strong Interaction by developing innovative theories and methods.
The equation of state of dense nuclear matter, for example, sets the scale for the mass and radius of neutron stars. At extreme densities beyond those achieved in atomic nuclei, astrophysical observations are particularly interesting. For example, information about the radius of neutron stars, which is sensitive to high densities, can be obtained from LIGO/Virgo observations of gravitational waves from neutron star mergers, as well as from new observations with NASA’s NICER instrument on the International Space Station. „So far, this fits very well with our understanding about the equation of state of nuclear matter,“ explains Professor Schwenk. „With EUSTRONG, we want to for the first time derive direct constraints on the dense-matter interactions from these astrophysical observations, and thus develop a unified description of matter in nuclei and stars.“
Another milestone of the ERC project is the acceleration of many-body calculations with new emulation and network methods to enable systematic and global ab initio calculations based on the Strong Interaction for heavy nuclei. One focus are extremely neutron-rich heavy nuclei (around neutron number 126), which play a central role in the synthesis of elements in the Universe. The accelerator facility FAIR (Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research) in Darmstadt will be leading in this region of the nuclear chart. Based on these new developments, Professor Schwenk and his team also want to investigate key nuclei that are used in extremely sensitive detectors that search for dark matter and for the discovery of coherent neutrino scattering, which was recently achieved for the first time. In the exploration of dark matter in the Universe and of new physics beyond the Standard Model, the Strong Interaction therefore also plays an essential role.
„The second award by the ERC underlines how outstanding Professor Achim Schwenk’s research achievements are,“ emphasizes Professor Barbara Albert, Vice President for Research and Young Scientists at TU Darmstadt. Professor Schwenk is particularly excited to be working with excellent young scientists in the new EUSTRONG team, „because the conditions in nuclear physics are unique here and the students and postdocs are great“.