Matter and the Universe (MU)

Helmholtz Program Matter and the Universe (MU)

Using state-of-the-art theoretical and experimental methods, the program MU addresses the basic correlations of the fundamental building blocks of matter and their interaction as well as the complex behavior of hadronic matter and the influence of elementary particles on the evolution of our universe. With the competences in the Helmholtz centers DESY, GSI, FZJ, IPP, and KIT and with our scientific partners all over the world, we bring together elementary particle physics, atomic and nuclear physics, astroparticle physics, astrophysics, and cosmology to handle this major task in an integral and structured way.

Our understanding of the universe is based on the standard models of particle physics and cosmology and the knowledge on how complexity originates from simpler building blocks. This framework impressively describes the elementary building blocks of matter (quarks and leptons), the forces acting between them (photons, gluons, W and Z bosons), and also the spacious structure of the universe and some of its numerous fascinating objects. A universal Higgs field and the corresponding Higgs particle seemingly give the elementary particles their mass. Our view, however, is still incomplete and partly inconsistent. To answer the many unresolved questions, the Program MU is organized around three Topics, which are thematically and methodically connected to each other.



Topic Fundamental Particles and Forces (MU-FPF)


In this Topic, we explore the origin of particle masses, the quantum structure of the vacuum, and the strong and electroweak force, and we search for physics beyond the Standard Model, particularly for dark matter particles. Our focus is on the three themes

  • Higgs boson and fundamental interactions,
  • Search for new particles and phenomena, and
  • Cosmology and dark matter.

Prominent instruments are the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the LHC at CERN and the Belle/Belle II experiment for investigating electron-positron collisions at the Japanese High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK). We develop concepts for experiments at future colliders, for experiments with neutrino radiation, and for the search for dark matter. Part of the current activities of FZJ – studying the fate of antimatter (baryo- and leptogenesis), more specifically searching for CP violation via permanent electric dipole moments (EDM) and neutrino oscillations – are also closely related to this Topic.


Topic Cosmic Matter in the Laboratory (MU-CML)


In this Topic, we explore the complex and exotic forms of matter that are generated by the strong interaction (QCD) and that played a crucial role for the dynamics of the early universe and the evolution of many astrophysical objects.

Using accelerator facilities at GSI, CERN, later at FAIR, and elsewhere, we investigate the complexity of matter at all length scales, from the structure and dynamics of hadrons, emerging from quarks and gluons, to the complex and various structures of atomic nuclei and nuclear matter and their relevance for the evolution of our universe.

Central open questions concern the role of spontaneous symmetry breaking in the dynamic generation of hadron masses, the possible existence of exotic and so far unknown phases of strongly interacting matter, as well as the properties of extremely short-lived isotopes and their influence on the synthesis of heavy elements in explosive processes occurring in supernovae or colliding neutron stars.

A priority goal is the building and step-by-step commissioning of the FAIR accelerators and storage rings and also of the detector systems of the international collaborations APPA, CBM, NUSTAR, and PANDA (APPA is embedded in the Program MML).

Topic Matter and Radiation from the Universe (MU-MRU)


In this Topic, we investigate the generation, acceleration, and propagation of high-energy particles in the cosmos, measure fundamental properties of neutrinos, and search for dark matter.

The goal is a comprehensive view of the role of elementary particles in the evolution of galaxies and of the entire universe. For this purpose, we continuously  advance our observatories for charged cosmic radiation, neutrinos, and gamma radiation. We particularly upgrade  the Auger Observatory (AugerPrime), build up CTA, and prepare the extension of IceCube (IceCube-Gen2). We  combine existing and future data of the observatories into one common multimessenger view of the universe at high  energies. This view is based on a deepened understanding of the fundamental processes in magnetized plasmas of  relativistic matter and in radiation fields. With the precision spectrometer KATRIN, we particularly explore the mass  of neutrinos and their role as possible particles of dark matter. In future projects, we will contribute our  competences to the search for dark matter. 

For experimental approaches, we often need large-scale and extremely sophisticated research infrastructures, for  example particle accelerators and detectors, telescopes, extended detector fields, or underground laboratories.  Theory and experiment are always closely intertwined, e.g. in the comparison of theories with precision  measurements and in the search for novel phenomena. The extension of experimental possibilities to higher  energies, to extremely rare processes, and to very complex systems of matter is absolutely essential. Therefore, we  closely cooperate with the Programs MML and MT.


LK II facilities

Ion Facilities
Investigation of matter with ions at the research infrastructures of GSI/FAIR: The LK II facilities of GSI  for the Program MU (LK II GSI-MU) comprise: UNILAC and SIS18 together with the fragment separator (FRS) and the  nuclear and hadron physics experiment served by the GSI accelerators, as well as the Green IT Cube for data  analysis and storage. In the course of LK II operation, the implementation of novel FAIR instrumentation of NUSTAR,  CBM, and PANDA for user experiments at UNILAC and at SIS18 will be pursued with high priority. 

Data Centers
Our experiments produce an enormous amount of data which are processed in globally networked  infrastructures (dedicated large-scale computer centers, including Green IT Cube which is currently being set up, and Tier-1 GridKA and also Tier-2 centers). We must develop new ways to enable fast and efficient data analysis. An important  role also plays the development of complex algorithms which are to generate new knowledge from these data.


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