ERC Advanced Grant for Thomas Stöhlker

Million-euro funding for experiments with storage rings at GSI/FAIR on the way to the nuclear clock


Thomas Stöhlker, head of the research division for Atomic, Quantum and Fundamental Physics at GSI/FAIR, Director of the Helmholtz Institute Jena and Professor at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena, receives an ERC Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). His project HITHOR has been awarded the European Union's research funding prize for established scientists. The prestigious award enables intensive research with highly-charged 229-thorium ions to pave the way for the development of a nuclear clock. A nuclear clock would enable time measurement with unprecedented precision, with great potential for new insights into basic research and innovative applications.

For his project HITHOR — “Highly Ionized Trapped 229-Thorium: A New Paradigm Towards a Nuclear Clock” — Professor Thomas Stöhlker receives a million-euro grant. In this way, the European Research Council supports Stöhlker’s pioneering work on precision spectroscopy of highly charged ions in storage rings and traps with the aim of advancing the development of a nuclear clock based on highly-charged 229-thorium ions. The award underlines the outstanding quality of scientific research at GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung and the accelerator facility FAIR that is currently under construction. The application was submitted jointly by GSI and the Helmholtz Institute Jena, a GSI branch, under the direction of Thomas Stöhlker, and entitles the applicant to a maximum of 2.5 million euros in funding over a period of five years.

“I am extremely pleased about this great opportunity and would like to thank the European Research Council,” says Thomas Stöhlker. “HITHOR will be realized at GSI's ion storage ring and trapping installations, as this is the only accelerator facility in the world where highly ionized 229-thorium can be synthesized, decelerated, trapped and cooled and studied by means of precision spectroscopy. The ERC Advanced Grant will enable my team and me to bring together the exceptional expertise of scientists from different disciplines at GSI/FAIR and Helmholtz Institute Jena to perform these novel experiments.”

The Scientific Managing Director of GSI/FAIR, Professor Paolo Giubellino, says: “Congratulations on this fantastic achievement. I am delighted to see Thomas Stöhlker and his team recognized for their innovative projects and commitment to tackling important challenges in modern physics that could revolutionize applications requiring accurate time measurements. The grant demonstrates the exceptional quality of our scientists and research facilities at GSI/FAIR. We all look forward to ground-breaking results from these unique experiments at our storage rings.”

Currently, there are intense research activities in many laboratories worldwide related to the “thorium clock” since such a “nuclear clock” opens new doors to fundamental physics such as e.g. testing time-variations of natural constants and exploring the enigma of dark matter and may, in the long run, even enable the establishment of a new time standard. The unique selling point of the project “HITHOR” is a novel access to the “thorium clock” with the focus on highly-ionized 229-thorium, an elementary quantum-system, which consists only of the Thorium nucleus and one or few electrons. Using highly-ionized 229-thorium, the realization of a clock based on nuclear transitions promises fascinating insights. 

According to the European Research Council (ERC), the funding is amongst the EU’s most prestigious and competitive, providing leading senior researchers with the opportunity to pursue ambitious, curiosity-driven projects that could lead to major scientific breakthroughs. The new grants, worth in total nearly €652 million, are part of the EU’s Horizon Europe program. (LW)