12 June 2023
Photo: MADMAX Collaboration
The French research organisation CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) and three research centres of the Helmholtz Association have joined forces to form the Dark Matter Lab (DMLab), an international research laboratory (IRL) dedicated to the study of mysterious dark matter. The DMLab, which will be heavily involved in the planned MADMAX experiment at DESY, is coordinated on the German side by DESY.
Dark matter is one of the greatest scientific mysteries of the universe: From astronomical observations, we know that it accounts for about 26 percent of the total energy content of the universe and is thus about five times more abundant than the normal matter we know. Until now, however, this mysterious substance has eluded direct detection because it interacts only extremely weakly with the normal matter surrounding us.
In order to shed more light on this dark part of the universe, the CNRS has founded the DMLab together with DESY, the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. The aim is to strengthen collaboration between the two countries and foster the potential for discovery. “We want to bring together the partly complementary expertise and different infrastructures of the German and French sides in order to sustainably advance topics of common interest and thus also gain greater visibility internationally,” says DESY researcher Thomas Schörner, German director of the DMLab. The leverage of the IRL will also support funding applications of the IRL teams to the French and German national funding agencies.
The DMLab's scientific topics include a wide variety of aspects of the search for dark matter: direct searches for dark matter particles, the development of innovative detector and accelerator technologies, and the theoretical study of dark matter. But the activities also include astroparticle physics with its multi-messenger approach that includes gravitational waves, and scientific computing with topics such as artificial intelligence and data management.
One joint project in which the DMLab will be involved is the MADMAX (Magnetized Disc and Mirror Axion Experiment) experiment. The international MADMAX collaboration formed at DESY in 2017 and aims to search for axions, hypothetical ultra-light particles that could be building blocks of dark matter. The idea is that these axions could make themselves felt at interfaces of different materials in a very strong magnetic field.
The DMLab will initially be established for five years. Organisationally, it is a facility of the French IN2P3 (Institut National de Physique Nucleaire et de Physique des Particules) in the CNRS, which is getting another location in Germany. Ten of the existing IN2P3 sites distributed throughout France are involved in DMLab. The laboratory will enable French scientists to spend longer research stays of at least one year in Germany. With the help of the funding also pledged by DESY, GSI, and KIT, a lively exchange in both directions is expected, which will have a productive impact on all projects at DMLab.
“Forty years ago, the bilateral collaboration between IN2P3 and DESY started with the joint experiment Cello at the PETRA ring,” sums up Dirk Zerwas, French director of the DMLab. “The Dark Matter Lab is a unique opportunity to further deepen the collaboration between CNRS–IN2P3 and the Helmholtz research centres.”