ERC Advanced Grant for experimental physicist Dmitry Budker

Physicist of Mainz University receives EU funding for his search for dark matter and dark energy


Professor Dmitry Budker has been granted EUR 2.5 million in funding by the European Research Council (ERC) for his new project involving the hunt for dark matter and dark energy. Budker came to Mainz from the University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA, in early 2014. He holds a professorship at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in Experimental Atomic Physics and is section head at the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM). Using a new approach, Budker is embarking on a systematic search for the particles that make up dark matter and the components that make up dark energy. Dark matter and dark energy are still among the great puzzles of physics. Jointly referred to as the "dark sector," they make up about 95 percent of the universe.

The ERC Advanced Grant is the most valuable endowment of the European Union awarded to outstanding researchers. In this case, the European Research Council decided to confer the grant on the submitted project "Experimental Searches for Oscillating and Transient Effects from the Dark Sector." The funding commences in 2016 and is guaranteed for five years. The objective of the project is to identify dark sector signatures with the help of new kind of techniques that involve the use of magnetic resonance and magnetometry. "Up to now there have been no unequivocal observations of dark sector particles or fields," explained Budker, referring to the starting point of the project. "We are planning experiments that will provide a direct connection to the dark sector and which in turn will allow us to carry out a systematic search for involved particles or fields," he added. Budker further hopes that the experiments will reveal new insights that will benefit a number of research fields, including particle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology. Indeed, the results could lay the foundations for a fundamentally new type of physics that goes beyond the Standard Model.

Scientists around the world are already conducting research into dark matter and dark energy using a range of different methods. Although evidence of the existence of dark matter first came to light in the early 1930s, its makeup is still a complete mystery. Roughly one quarter of the universe consists of dark matter while normal, visible material makes up only five percent. About 70 percent of the Universe's mass-energy is dark energy, which is responsible for the accelerated expansion of the universe. However, we know even less about dark energy than we do about dark matter. Budker and his team now intend to start their search with techniques that have not previously been employed and that involve the use of networks of highly precise magnetometers and magnetic resonance techniques. According to Budker, the equipment and techniques to be developed as part of the project represent the decisive elements required to identify the actual culprits among a wide variety of possible candidates.

Dmitry Budker, born in the former USSR, has been Professor of Experimental Atomic Physics at Mainz University since January 2014. The professorship was established at the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM), a collaborative project involving JGU and the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt. Budker and his work group are conducting research into fundamental symmetries and interactions. Before coming to Mainz, Budker was a faculty member at the Physics Department of the University of California, Berkeley, where he is still a professor of the Graduate School.

ERC Advanced Grants are awarded to outstanding researchers to enable them to undertake projects considered to be highly speculative due to their innovative approach, but which have the potential to open up access to new approaches in the corresponding research field. Only researchers who have already made significant breakthroughs and have been successfully working for at least ten years at the highest levels of international research are eligible for the grant. The only criteria considered when it comes to the award of ERC funding are the researcher’s academic excellence and the nature of their research project. An ERC grant thus also represents acknowledgement of the individual achievements of the recipient.