Funding excellent research: dynamics of neutron stars is the focus of the cluster project ELEMENTS


This news is based on press releases of the Hessian Ministry of Higher Education, Research, Science and the Arts and the TU Darmstadt

The Hessian state government is supporting cutting-edge research in Hesse with almost 40 million euros over a period of four years. Six projects of the universities in Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Giessen and Marburg together with further universities and non-university research institutions will be supported in the funding line "Cluster Projects" launched by the state from April 2021. In this way, the state is strengthening the research areas that shape the profile of Hessen's universities, including particle physics. One of the funded projects is ELEMENTS, in which the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung is involved.

In 2017, gravitational waves from merging neutron stars and their electromagnetic signals were detected for the first time — a turning point in multi-messenger astronomy. The cluster project ELEMENTS (Exploring the Universe from microscopic to macroscopic scales) brings together scientists from different fields of physics to investigate the origin of chemical elements in the universe. In the process, physics questions about the fundamental properties of matter will be answered. Experimentally, the project benefits from the worldwide unique infrastructure of particle accelerators in Hesse, including the FAIR facility currently under construction at GSI.

The project combines the strong research forces of several international leading institutions. It is being funded with 7.9 million euros until 2025 as part of the "Cluster Projects" funding line of the State of Hesse in preparation for the next round of the Bund-Länder Excellence Strategy. Besides Goethe University Frankfurt and TU Darmstadt, which are equally leading the project, the University of Gießen and the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt are also involved. This collaboration will allow the researchers to combine their outstanding expertise in gravitational physics and in the physics of nuclear reactions, as well as to make synergistic use of the accelerator facilities in Darmstadt — the FAIR facility at GSI and the TU's electron accelerator S-DALINAC at the Institute of Nuclear Physics.

"I am delighted with this decision of the State of Hesse," said the Scientific Managing Director of GSI and FAIR, Professor Paolo Giubellino. "In the State of Hesse we understand how to bring together the right people and the right topics. We provide research structures at international top level. That enables us to achieve a leading standing in important future research fields. The current research program at GSI and FAIR offers excellent opportunities, and in the coming years the FAIR accelerator center will open up further innovative potential."

"I am extremely pleased with the decision," TU President Professor Tanja Brühl said. "It honors the synergies between outstanding university and non-university research. The globally unique particle accelerator infrastructures established here, including the future FAIR facility, will contribute to a successful future." Brühl added that the project also strengthens the alliance of Rhine-Main universities formed by the universities of Mainz, Frankfurt and Darmstadt.

ELEMENTS will study neutron stars, the barely visible little brothers of black holes. They are formed after a star has burned out when it was not massive enough to be compressed into a black hole by its own gravitational pressure after its end. Neutron stars, like black holes, are the cause of extreme space-time curvature, and when neutron stars or black holes merge, detectable gravitational waves are created. Because of their cosmic effects and extreme conditions, both phenomena are very exciting for researchers around the world. However, unlike black holes, neutron stars also allow conclusions about their interior.

Thus, neutron star mergers are visible in the sky as extremely light-intense processes, kilonovae, where the heaviest chemical elements are produced through nuclear reactions under extreme conditions. The ELEMENTS project investigates the dynamics in the fusion of two neutron stars and in this context also examines the gravitational field, nuclear matter and — the main topic of the physicists at GSI/FAIR and the TU Darmstadt — the heavy chemical elements that are created in the process. For example, the luminosity of a kilonova as a fingerprint for the production of heavy elements was successfully predicted a few years ago by physicists working in Darmstadt. (HMWK / TUD / BP)