Beginning of a new scientific era: Professor Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo receives Leibniz Prize


This press release is based on an press release of TU Darmstadt

Professor Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo will receive the 2022 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation). This is most important and highest endowed German research prize. Martínez-Pinedo is award for his outstanding work at the interface between astrophysics, nuclear physics and neutrino physics. He researches and teaches at the Institute for Nuclear Physics at the TU Darmstadt and at the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt.

Physicist Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo's work has helped to solve one of the biggest unsolved problems in physics in the 21st century: Where does nature produce heavy elements, such as the noble metals gold or platinum? Together with other scientists including Professor Almudena Arcones from Darmstadt, Martínez-Pinedo showed that these elements are created during the merger of neutron stars and that this process produces a distinct electromagnetic signal, a light curve, for which Martínez-Pinedo and colleagues created the term "kilonova." In 2017, such a kilonova was observed for the first time, simultaneously by the "messengers" of light and gravitational waves.

This scientific milestone, in which Martínez-Pinedo was involved in a leading role, is considered to be the birth of multi-messenger astronomy, which opens up completely new scientific possibilities. In the future, for example, the nuclear physics processes involved in the merger of neutron stars  will be studied with unprecedented quality in the laboratory after completion of the  international accelerator center FAIR currently being built at GSI in Darmstadt. This opens up the opportunity to unravel the dynamics involved in the merger of two neutron stars from details of the gravitational wave and light curve signals and to address fundamental questions - such as how the transition of the merging neutron stars to a black hole proceeds, whether a new form of matter, "quark matter," is passed through during the merger, or whether merging neutron stars are the only place where heavy elements can be created in the astrophysical r-process. Most of the nuclei involved in the r-process are extremely short-lived, so their properties must be modeled theoretically in order to explore the r-process. In this, Martínez-Pinedo has taken a world-leading role in recent years.

Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo combines the expertise in the research fields of astrophysics, nuclear physics, and neutrino physics, which positions him to be a world leader in a highly interdisciplinary research field.

Another highlight of Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo's scientific career was the discovery of the neutrino-p-process, a nucleosynthesis process occurring during a supernova. More recently, the physicist has been working on the description of the interaction of neutrinos with matter in supernovae. At TU Darmstadt and GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung, Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo heads the Theoretical Nuclear Astrophysics groups. With his work at both research institutions, he has contributed significantly in establishing Darmstadt as a center of nuclear astrophysics worldwide.

The Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize has been awarded annually by the DFG since 1986 to scientists working in Germany in a wide range of disciplines. Up to ten prizes can be awarded each year, each with a prize money of 2.5 million euros. The prize money is intended, among other things, to expand the research opportunities of the award recipients. The Joint Committee of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) today awarded the 2022 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize to ten scientists. They had previously been selected from 134 proposals. The prize money is intended, among other things, to expand the research opportunities of the award recipients; the award winners can use it for their research work for up to seven years according to their own ideas and without bureaucratic effort.

Professor Paolo Giubellino, the Scientific Managing Director of FAIR and GSI, says, “I am extremely delighted about this decision of the German Research Foundation and the great appreciation of the excellent scientific work of Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo. At the same time, the award is a proof of the outstanding opportunities in the research area of Darmstadt, at GSI and FAIR as well as at TUD. With FAIR, we will be able to further extend the perspectives of such groundbreaking research as conducted by Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo and enable further important pioneering achievements. Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo is one of the key players in the research community as a world-renowned expert on the formation of chemical elements in the universe."

"We congratulate the laureate Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo on this outstanding award," says Professor Tanja Brühl, President of TU Darmstadt. "He has initiated a paradigm shift in the study of the formation of heavy elements. Research personalities like him strengthen the role of the Technische Universität Darmstadt and the GSI Helmholtzzentrum, which together have become an internationally outstanding center of nuclear astrophysics. We are proud that with Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo another Leibniz prizewinner is helping to shape the research field of Matter and Materials at TU Darmstadt. With his expertise, he also strengthens the excellence cluster initiative ELEMENTS, funded by the HMWK, which we are developing together with Goethe University."

About Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo

Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo studied at the Autonomous University of Madrid, where he received his PhD in Theoretical Physics. His further career took him to the California Institute of Technology, the universities of Aarhus, Basel and Barcelona, among others. Since 2005, he has worked at the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt, where he heads now the Nuclear Astrophysics and Structure Theory Department and in 2020 became one of the directors of the Helmholtz Research Academy of Hesse for FAIR. Since 2011, Martínez-Pinedo has held the professorship of Theoretical Nuclear Astrophysics in the Department of Physics at TU Darmstadt. Martínez-Pinedo has received many awards; among others, he received an ERC Advanced Grant last year for the project "Probing r-process nucleosynthesis through electromagnetic signatures (KILONOVA)". He is a much sought-after speaker at international conferences, represents his field in important international committees, and publishes in prestigious scientific journals. (TUD/BP)

Further information

Release of TU Darmstadt

Release of DFG