“We need to create a solid theoretical framework to describe the strong force between protons and neutrons in atomic nuclei. Today’s theories form an incomplete patchwork”, says Andreas Ekström, researcher at the Department of Physics at Chalmers University of Technology.
For the next five years, he will lead a research project funded with 1,5 M€ from the European Research Council (ERC). The goal is to establish new methods and theories to model atomic nuclei. He will focus on heavy, unstable, and exotic nuclei that so far have eluded researchers all over the world.
” To generate new knowledge about the strong force, I will investigate heavy atomic nuclei such as oxygen and calcium. A heavy nucleus typically contains more information than a light nucleus such as helium. However, it’s a greater challenge to analyze heavy nuclei”, says Andreas Ekström.
In his project, he will introduce new ways to exploit data from existing experiments and theoretically disassemble atomic nuclei to better understand the strong force. More or less laying the puzzle backwards. Since a heavy nucleus consists of considerably more neutrons and protons than a light one, it will be a tricky puzzle with many pieces to keep track of.
But the research project is not only about describing the strong force in nuclei. It is also essential to work out methods for calculating the uncertainties in the models.
“Many fields of research are based on input from fundamental nuclear physics. It is also very expensive and time consuming to conduct large experiments. Therefore, it is important that we can offer predictions with great precision.”
The basic research that is conducted by Andreas Ekström is essential for understanding stellar physics and fusion processes in the sun as well as neutrino physics. The aim is to solve one of the great mysteries of our universe.
"The strong force affects everything - from the smallest atomic nucleus to the biggest star - and a well-functioning society is based on understanding the world we live in. We need fundamental research as a pillar of society. Even though we will not have all the answers in five years, I hope that we can make important progress. My previous research has shown that the proposed method of laying the puzzle backwards is a possible way ahead”, says Andreas Ekström.
Andreas Ekström and the ERC grant
Andreas Ekström was born in 1980. He is conducting his research within the field of nuclear physics at the Department of Physics at Chalmers University of Technology. His project ”PrecisionNuclei” has been selected among 3 000 applications from European researchers. The Starting Grant from the European Research Council is aimed at excellent young researchers who are ready to start their own research group. Out of the approximately 300 people who receive the grant, about ten are based in Sweden. Andreas Ekström is the only researcher from Chalmers who receives the coveted grant for 2017. In 2016 he was also rewarded the annual international prize for young scientists, awarded by the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics.
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