Research overview

Our research focus lies on the physics of hadrons like protons, neutrons, or pions. According to the Standard Model of particle physics, hadrons are composite objects consisting of quarks and gluons. In a simple picture, a proton can be thought of being composed of two up-quarks and one down-quark, a neutron of two down-quarks and one up-quark. There are also heavier siblings to these two light quarks: the strange-, charm-, bottom- and the top-quark, and, to make the situation even more complicated, the antiparticles of all these quarks, which are called antiquarks. All these so-called quark flavors were present until a few microseconds after the Big Bang. Nowadays, the four heavier ones are no longer found in nature; powerful accelerators or high-energetic cosmic rays are needed to produce them.

Quarks are bound together in hadrons by the strong interaction, which is the strongest of the four fundamental forces in nature, and which is mediated by so-called gluons. The theory of strong interaction is called Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), and is part of the Standard Model of particle physics. Hadrons consisting of the two light flavors, up and down, make up for almost all of the mass of the visible universe. Only a small fraction of this mass, however, is due to the Higgs mechanism. The vast majority of the mass of hadrons is due to the strong interaction. Exactly how the masses or other properties of hadrons are generated by the strong interaction is one of the great puzzles of physics.

In our experiments, we use electromagnetic and hadronic probes to study these properties. The main goals are the understanding of the structure of nucleons and mesons and the spectroscopy of mesons with COMPASS and AMBER and of the production of hadrons in high-energy collisions with ALICE at CERN. To this end, we develop high-resolution and fast particle detectors, take care of their operation in the experiment and analyze the data taken with them. As a spin-off, we also use these detectors to search for Dark Matter, i.e. physics beyond the Standard Model. 

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