10 years PRISMA Cluster of Excellence at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Significant scientific success and fantastic research opportunities at the Mainz Gutenberg Campus

11 October 2022

There was great joy at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz back in 2012: Approval was given for the PRISMA Cluster of Excellence ("Precision Physics, Fundamental Interactions and Structure of Matter") as part of the German Federal and State governments' Excellence Initiative, thus establishing a new research network in the field of particle and hadron physics. That success story continued with the subsequent German Excellence Strategy program which approved the launch of the successor cluster in 2019, PRISMA+. Today, more than 300 researchers in the Cluster of Excellence can look back on a great number of scientific achievements as well as take pride in having established outstanding research infrastructure at the Gutenberg Campus – fitting reasons to celebrate publicly with an anniversary event at the Mainz State Theater.

"The state of Rhineland-Palatinate is proud of the outstanding quality of physics research in Mainz. On the occasion of today's anniversary celebration, I would like to thank all the participating researchers in the PRISMA+ Cluster of Excellence for their extraordinary commitment," emphasized Minister of Science and Health Clemens Hoch. "The researchers in Mainz have achieved some outstanding research results in recent years, and have developed visionary concepts for the future. The inclusion of PRISMA+ in the circle of Clusters of Excellence was, and is, a great success – for the scientists involved, for Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and for cutting-edge research in Rhineland-Palatinate as a whole. The state government has supported PRISMA and PRISMA+ from the very beginning and will continue to do so in the future."

"We officially inaugurated PRISMA almost exactly 10 years ago, on November 5, 2012. Since then the cluster has shown remarkable progress," said a delighted Prof. Georg Krausch, President of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz. "The combination of unprecedented precision measurements, leadership in large-scale international experiments, and innovative theoretical physics calculations have helped to continually reinforce JGU's status as one of the world's leading centers of particle, astroparticle and hadron physics. PRISMA+ has been enhancing JGU's research profile for 10 years now, strengthening the university's national and international visibility as well as bolstering its competitiveness in the ongoing challenge of attracting funding, top researchers and early-career academics."

Distinctive profile thanks to outstanding research opportunities at the Gutenberg Campus

The PRISMA+ Cluster of Excellence is focused on the fundamental building blocks of matter and the forces that act between them. The Standard Model of particle physics describes all this with impressive accuracy – but leaves some fundamental questions unanswered: Why did matter and antimatter not completely annihilate one another after the Big Bang? More than 80 percent of the matter in the universe consists of invisible dark matter. What is it made of? What is the role of the mysterious neutrinos in the early universe? The quest for this "new physics" – beyond the Standard Model – is the driving force behind PRISMA+.

It is a field of research that typically features large-scale international projects. The Mainz cluster also shines in terms of its proprietary low-energy precision experiments on the Gutenberg campus and has been able to develop a distinctive profile through those efforts. "The very conception of the PRISMA Cluster of Excellence was based on the guiding principle that the Excellence Initiative would be an opportunity to expand local research infrastructure with centralized, large-scale projects and structural measures," explain Prof. Matthias Neubert and Prof. Hartmut Wittig, the two spokespersons of the cluster. "This has allowed us to make great progress over the last 10 years. In particular it includes the innovative electron accelerator MESA (Mainz Energy-Recovering Superconducting Accelerator), which is currently under construction and will allow several unique precision experiments; the establishment in 2013 of the Mainz Institute for Theoretical Physics (MITP) as an international center for theoretical physics; the setup of a central detector laboratory; and last but not least, 15 successful new appointments since 2012 combined with the establishment of an equal number of new research groups." In the future, the Center for Fundamental Physics (CFP), which is already nearing completion, will provide the premises for the comprehensive PRISMA+ research program.

Scientific success – entertaining enough for the big stage

Some of the successes of the last 10 years include the participation in the discovery of the Higgs particle and in the measurement of the W-boson mass at the ATLAS detector at CERN; the identification of a neutrino from a galaxy three billion light years away with the IceCube Experiment at the South Pole; the extremely precise measurement of muon magnetism at Fermilab in the US, which, together with precision calculations, provides one of the most promising hints for new physics; and the continuous expansion of the XENON experiment, the world's most sensitive detector for dark matter, in the Gran Sasso Mountains in Italy. "We are very proud of all these achievements," say Matthias Neubert and Hartmut Wittig. "They have all caused quite a stir in the scientific community. At PRISMA+ we don't just keep these exciting physics developments to ourselves but are keen to share them with the general public – especially with this type of anniversary celebration." The popular lecture series "Physics in the Theater" provided just the right celebratory setting for PRISMA's 10th birthday – all in front of a sold-out crowd. Many of the cluster's rising stars also had their say, giving short yet entertaining talks on topics as diverse as the proton radius puzzle, the hunt for neutrinos, the search for dark matter and the construction of the new MESA electron accelerator. A new promotional film also premiered at the theater, describing the PRISMA+ research program with catchy statements and impressive images.