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Topic 2: "Cosmic Matter in the Laboratory"

Introduction to the topic

The topic Cosmic Matter in the Laboratory aims at a precise and quantitative understanding of strongly interacting cosmic matter in terms of the relevant degrees of freedom at all length scales. The strong force played and still plays an essential role in the evolution of the Universe, in the early stage where the quark gluon plasma prevailed, in the synthesis of chemical elements as well as in the formation and development of stars.


At small distances the strong interaction is characterized by the exchange of gluons between colour charges. The dynamics of colour is described by quantum chromo dynamics (QCD). Conversely, at large distances the interaction between colour charges is strong and leads to confinement in colour-neutral objects, hadrons. In addition to the confinement of colour, another basic feature of QCD is of particular importance for this topic, the spontaneous breaking of the chiral symmetry in vacuum. Both play decisive but so far not fully unravelled roles in the non-perturbative regime of QCD, which determines some intrinsic features like the hadron mass spectrum, the structure of nucleons and nuclei, the phase diagram of hot and dense strongly interacting matter and possibly the disappearance of antimatter in the cosmos. Apart from its challenge to understand the nature of cosmic matter, nuclear and hadron physics has proven to continuously contribute substantially to other grand challenges, like energy, health and key technologies since decades.


To bring cosmic matter into a laboratory is possible at the internationally leading accelerator and experimental facilities which are operated by the Helmholtz centres FZJ and GSI: the COSY facility at the FZJ in Jülich and the UNILAC/SIS18/ESR accelerator complex at GSI in Darmstadt. Moreover, Helmholtz researchers play a key role in the ALICE programme with ultra-relativistic heavy ion beams carried out at the CERN LHC.


The major goal of FZJ and GSI together with its (national and international) partners in PoF 3 is the construction, commissioning and operation of the new international accelerator complex FAIR on the site of GSI. Due to the quantum step in ion intensity and energy and due to the new feature of stored antiproton beams, this unique facility will open a new era in hadronic, nuclear, atomic, and plasma physics and various applications. This will particularly strengthen the world-leading role of the Helmholtz association in the research of hadrons and nuclei.


It is the declared goal of the participating centres to complete successfully the construction of this facility by 2018. This requires to strongly focus the research activities at either facility to enable development and construction work for FAIR. Therefore the Helmholtz Senate decided to exclude the FAIR activities of FZJ and the activities of GSI on the Darmstadt campus from the PoF 3 evaluation process. Those activities are described here in short and for information only, since they set the frame for the activities evaluated here. Based on resources, the remaining evaluated activities in this topic comprise about 15% of all FZJ and GSI activities in this topic.


There are three structurally different subjects, which are to be evaluated:

  • The FZJ activity with research at the COSY accelerator towards an experiment to search for an electric dipole moment (EDM) of charged particles using storage rings (JEDI collaboration, see here)
  • The activities of the Helmholtz-Institute Mainz, which are embedded in the strategy of GSI towards FAIR and brings in Johannes Gutenberg Universität-Mainz (JGU) as a strong strategic partner. It has been founded in 2009 and enters now into the PoF evaluation with its activities on FAIR, see here.
  • In addition, an important part of the strategy of GSI is a sustained funding for an extended networking and talent management program both at the national as well as the international level.