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Prestigious Stern-Gerlach Medal goes to Peter Braun-Munzinger and Johanna Stachel

Photo: DPG / Ove Arscholl

Awarded with the Stern-Gerlach Medal



Professor Peter Braun-Munzinger, the Scientific Director of the ExtreMe Matter Institute EMMI at the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung, and Professor Johanna Stachel from Heidelberg University have been jointly awarded the prestigious Stern-Gerlach Medal by the German Physical Society (DPG). The award comes in recognition of their outstanding role in the construction and operation of the central detectors for the ALICE experiment at the CERN Large Hadron Collider and of their outstanding contribution to the interpretation of heavy-ion collisions and the understanding of the phase structure of matter under extreme conditions. The award was presented at the DPG annual conference, in Rostock.

The nuclear physicist Peter Braun-Munzinger is 72 years old. His work focuses primarily on ultrarelativistic heavy-ion collisions and the resulting quark-gluon plasma. In the period from 1996 to 2011, he was head of the ALICE department at GSI and also held a chair at TU Darmstadt.  From the very earliest days of the project, GSI has played a leading role in the construction of ALICE — one of the largest experiments at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research — and in shaping the associated scientific program of research. The prime purpose of ALICE is to investigate the quark-gluon plasma, a state of matter that existed in the first few fractions of a second after the Big Bang.

Professor Braun-Munzinger studied physics at Heidelberg University, where he was awarded a doctorate summa cum laude. As a doctoral candidate, he held a scholarship of the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes, following which he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg. In 1976, Braun-Munzinger joined the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he became a full professor in 1982. After his return to Germany, he served as project manager for the time projection chamber of the ALICE experiment at CERN from 1998 until 2010. He was also chair of the collaboration board of ALICE from 2011 to 2016 and Helmholtz professor at GSI from 2011 to 2014. He has held an honorary chair at Heidelberg University since 2014.

In the periods from 1984 to 1987 and 2000 to 2002, Braun-Munzinger was an editor of Physical Review Letters. Published by the American Physical Society, this is one of the world’s oldest and most renowned academic journals in the field of physics. Braun-Munzinger’s scientific work has attracted numerous awards. In 1994, for example, he was made a fellow of the American Physical Society, and in 2011 a member of the Academia Europaea. In 2014, he was awarded the Lise Meitner Prize and has now, most recently, been awarded the Stern Gerlach Medal for 2019.

Professor Johanna Stachel is likewise linked to GSI via the ALICE experiment. The 64-year-old nuclear and particle physicist is the first woman to receive the Stern Gerlach Medal. Stachel studied chemistry and physics at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, where she was awarded a doctorate summa cum laude. Her work focuses on understanding collisions of atomic nuclei at ultrarelativistic energies.  She teaches at Heidelberg University. At CERN in Geneva, she is involved in experiments with the Large Hadron Collider to investigate the quark-gluon plasma and heads the transition radiation detector project at ALICE. She is also spokesperson for the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s ALICE research program. From 2012 to 2014, she was President of the DPG. Her work has likewise attracted numerous honors and awards. For example, she is a member of the Leopoldina German National Academy of Sciences and has been awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and also the Lise Meitner Prize.

Professor Paolo Giubellino, the Scientific Managing Director of GSI and FAIR, expressed his delight at the latest honor for Braun-Munzinger and Stachel. “They both have made outstanding contributions to the physics of Heavy Ion collisions,” said Giubellino, who until 2016 was spokesperson for the ALICE experiment. “And I’m very happy that GSI is able to benefit from the great expertise of Professor Peter Braun-Munzinger, as Scientific Director of the ExtreMe Matter Institute EMMI. His work makes a fundamental contribution to the discovery and understanding of new aspects of extreme matter. Furthermore, his scientific work is of enormous importance for the scientific program of the future FAIR facility.”

The Stern Gerlach Medal is the DPG’s highest award for outstanding achievements in the field of experimental physics. It is awarded annually and consists of a handwritten parchment certificate and a gold medal with engravings of the two physicists Otto Stern and Walther Gerlach, who also gave their name to the Stern-Gerlach experiment, a fundamental experiment in physics. (BP)

Awarded with the Stern-Gerlach Medal
The photo from left to right shows the two award winners Professor Peter Braun-Munzinger and Professor Johanna Stachel together with the President of the German Physical Society DPG, Professor Dieter Meschede.
Photo: DPG / Ove Arscholl