New Helmholtz Alliance for ApP Print E-mail

Image An interview with Johannes Blümer, scientific spokesperson of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology Center Elementary Particle and Astroparticle Physics (KCETA), Germany.

What’s the goal of the new Helmholtz Alliance for astroparticle physics?

The goal is to unite the many efforts in astroparticle physics all across Germany and even beyond. We are 22 partners: The Helmholtz Centers KIT and DESY, 15 German universities, three Max Planck Institutes as well as the Institut AstroParticule et Cosmologie (APC) in Paris and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics (KICP) of the University of Chicago.
How important is something like a relatively national alliance in the era of European or even global collaboration?

Helmholtz Alliances set the focus on the partnership between Helmholtz Centers and German universities. They are part of the Pact for Research and Innovation, a measure to improve science funding in Germany. But for sure, the scientific content is never national. I think with an alliance like this Germany can interact on the international stage as a very strong and visible partner.

You have almost two dozen partners in the alliance. How do you get a system like this running?

We organise the work in tasks. We have tasks for the main scientific topics, like the hot universe, the dark universe, astroparticle theory and technology. Then we have officers for the contact to LHC and to astronomy, for equal opportunities, for graduate student issues and administration. The day to day work of the alliance will be run by an Executive Board of relatively few people. For globally important issues there is an Alliance Member Board with one member per institution and with some elected representatives from the entire alliance. Of course, there is an international Advisory Board. So, this light and well proven structure is quite similar to the one of many international collaborations.

Was it a bureaucratic nightmare to set up this alliance?

No, it wasn’t complicated because the driver is the common scientific goal to push forward the field of astroparticle physics. We have some discussions with the many legal departments. But I don’t think that it is a real obstacle.
Where would you like to see the biggest progress within the next years: in the theoretical understanding, in better data or in new technologies?

That’s a difficult question! [laughs] I have no preference. I would like to see any substantial progress.

Where would expect to see it?

That’s extremely hard to say. For instance, dark matter is a discovery sector – and so are the others. But the key point is that the current observatories or big detectors are all somewhat at the lower limit of sensitivity and/or statistical power when compared to our wishes. A new discovery will not come in like a loud bang. It will sneak in with few events per year.

What’s your personal driver to be in this field?

I just find it fascinating how the smallest particles and their properties determine the universe at large. And by observing one or the other you provide inputs to the other.

Will this alliance have an impact on the recruitment and education of young researchers?

I think it will have a significant impact. We have seen this already with the Virtual Institutes that have been active some years ago. The spirit of these institutes was still alive when we formed the new Helmholtz Alliance. If we have open positions we can always say it is part of the Helmholtz Alliance for astroparticle physics etc. Helmholtz benefits as well, because the Association gets even more visible as a brand in astroparticle physics. We will make considerable efforts to lift the support of young scientists and research training of our about one hundred doctoral researchers to the highest possible level, all across the alliance.

You get additional funding of about ten million Euros for the next five years. How will you invest the money?

We have an elaborated plan that defines how we distribute the money. It is clear that a significant amount of it will go into salaries for people. A smaller part will be invested in buying hardware. There are also significant resources for visiting scientists, for mobility, for equal opportunities. We manage all this jointly in the so-called Backbone.

Are you open for new partners?

Yes we are. A living network should never be a «closed shop» and so we will seek ourselves to identify more partners and we invite individuals, institutes and organisations to contact us. Together we achieve more! Limited funds are of course a concern, but we look into the future - a bright future, I believe.

Submitted by Dirk Lorenzen (Germany)

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