Joachim Kopp receives ERC Starting Grant for research in particle and astroparticle physics

Award worth EUR 800,000 designed to promote research into new approaches in theoretical neutrino physics


Professor Joachim Kopp receives a prestigious Starting Grant worth EUR 800,000 from the European Research Council (ERC) to help promote his work in the field of theoretical particle and astroparticle physics. Working at the Cluster of Excellence "Precision Physics, Fundamental Interactions and Structure of Matter" (PRISMA) of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), Kopp's special interests are neutrinos and dark matter. He will be using the ERC Starting Grant to pursue new approaches in theoretical neutrino physics.

Neutrinos are elementary particles which are electrically neutral and have an incredibly tiny mass. Because they hardly interact with other particles, it is extremely difficult to obtain experimental proof of their existence. However, since the turn of the millennium, numerous major projects, in some of which Mainz University played an important role, have provided pioneering new insights into the world of neutrinos. "Thanks to the significant experimental progress in recent years, neutrino physics has become a driving force for astroparticle physics," explained Kopp. "The project supported by the ERC is an essential theoretical counterpart to the rapid developments in this field."

The theoretical understanding of the world of neutrinos obtained through experimentation is in some respects contradictory and researchers thus speculate that there could be additional forms in addition to the three already identified species of neutrino. If this hypothesis can be proved, the current Standard Model of elementary particle physics would need to be revised. Professor Joachim Kopp will be searching for so-called sterile neutrinos by means of the theoretical interpretation of experimental results and the development of new theoretical models.

In addition, he will also be looking at the phenomenon of neutrino oscillation in supernovas, in other words, the periodic transformation of one species of neutrinos into another. A specific target of this research will be the effects of the quantum properties of the neutrinos.

In a third approach within the project, Kopp and his work group will be considering the possible connection between neutrinos and dark matter. Dark matter makes up approximately 23 percent of our universe while the elementary particles that are visible to us constitute only about 4 percent. It is not yet known what actually makes up dark matter but, in Kopp's opinion, sterile neutrinos are very promising candidates. He intends to investigate the various mechanisms through which sterile neutrino dark matter could have been created in the early universe.

An ERC Starting Grant is one of the most richly endowed funding awards made by the European Union to young researchers. ERC Starting Grants are designed to support outstanding researchers at the beginning of their careers while they form their own research team or establish their research program. In order to receive the grant, applicants must demonstrate excellence in research and provide evidence of the pioneering approach of their project and its feasibility.