10 October 2014
Over 12 million kroner to two researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute
Two researchers from the Niels Bohr Institute, astrophysicist Lise Bech Christensen from the DARK Cosmology Centre and particle physicist Stefania Xella from the Discovery Center have both received grants of approximately 6-6½ million kroner from YDUN under the Danish Council for Independent Research. YDUN are awarded primarily to promising young female researchers.
Nature’s own telescopes
Lise Bech Christensen, an associate professor at the DARK Cosmology Centre at the Niels Bohr Institute, has received approximately 6½ million kroner from the Danish Council for Independent Research for the project: Galaxy building blocks: Dwarf galaxies at high redshifts.
What we currently know about the structure of the universe and its creation is based on one percent of the distant galaxies, namely the brightest and most massive, as they are the ones we can study with our current technology. However, given that the large galaxies were probably created by mergers between smaller galaxies, we would gain invaluable knowledge about the beginning of the universe if we could also study the fainter, smaller galaxies, but the problem is that these galaxies are too faint to be seen even with the largest telescopes.
Astrophysicist Lise Bech Christensen researches early small dwarf galaxies and in this project, she will use nature’s own giant telescopes, the so-called ‘gravitational lenses’. This is an astronomical phenomenon that takes place when two luminous objects are lined up in relation to us on Earth. Then the light from the more distant light source, a dwarf galaxy for example, will be deflected and magnified by the gravity of the light source in front, a cluster of galaxies for example, which thus acts as a magnifying glass and amplifies the light from the distant dwarf galaxy.
“Using this method we will be able to study the physical conditions and structure of the galaxies and their chemical composition and we will be able to get detailed information about their development,” explains Lise Bech Christensen.
The Standard Model is challenged
Stefania Xella, an associate professor at the Discovery Center at the Niels Bohr Institute has received just over 6 million kroner from the Danish Council for Independent Research for the project: The upgraded Large Hadron Collider at CERN in 2015: Higgs precision physics and search for lepton flavour violation.
After being upgraded to operate at double the energy and number of proton collisions per second, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator at CERN will start up again in 2015. This opens up a unique opportunity to take a quantum leap in our fundamental understanding of particle physics and Stefania Xella’s project proposes several approaches for challenging and testing the so-called Standard Model – the theoretical model for the basic components of matter.
“The frequency at which the Higgs particle decays into other particles (b quarks or tau leptons) has great deal of uncertainty and there could be a signal for new physics hiding here,” says Stefania Xella, who proposes methods to reduce such uncertainty and thus improve our understanding of the Higgs particle.
“Secondly, the Standard Model assumes that the total number of leptons of each type (for example, electron and its corresponding neutral brother, the electron neutrino) is preserved in elementary particle interactions. But such conservation has already been challenged by the oscillations of neutral leptons, neutrinos, that change from one type to another. I propose to analyse a reaction of charged leptons at the LHC which can show a breach of lepton number conservation,” explains Stefania Xella, who believes that this could give us a new fundamental understanding of particle physics.
YDUN creates roll models The YDUN grant (”Younger women Devoted to a UNiversity career”) was established in 2013. Both men and women can apply for an YDUN research project, but female applicants are prioritised over men in a case of equal qualifications between two applicants.
Even though just as many women as men get a PhD, there are far fewer women than men in research director positions in Denmark. For every one women appointed professor, five men get to sit in the prestigious professor chair. This is a pattern the Danish Council for Independent Research would like to help to break. With the YDUN grant targeted at female researchers at the associate professor level, the council is therefore supporting 17 major research projects led by some of the country’s most talented researchers.
In addition to creating roll models for women in academia, the YDUN programme will also increase Denmark’s chances of getting research grants from the EU.