ERC Starting Grant of EUR 1.6 Million for Five Years Awarded to KIT Scientist

Dr. Frank Schröder, scientist of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and assistant professor at the University of Delaware, USA, who is involved in a study relating to the search for sources of highest-energy particles of cosmic rays from the Milky Way, has been awarded an European Research Council Starting Grant that will fund his project with EUR 1.6 million spread across five years. Key progress in the radio measurement method formulated by Frank Schröder and his colleagues at KIT’s Institute for Nuclear Physics enables the search for high-energy photons that accompany the enormous charged particles of cosmic rays.

A Starting Grant of the European Research Council goes to Dr. Frank Schröder. (Image credit: Markus Breig, KIT)

It is a declared objective of KIT to offer early-stage researchers optimal conditions for work. The ERC Starting Grant for Dr. Frank Schröder is a great success for both astroparticle physics and early-stage researchers at KIT. I congratulate him cordially.

Professor Oliver Kraft, KIT Vice President for Research

Highest-energy particles from the Milky Way hold a number of secrets. The sources and mechanisms speeding them to such high energies are still unidentified. These energies are far above those attained by massive manmade accelerator facilities, such as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) of the European Nuclear Research Center CERN in Geneva.

High-energy cosmic rays are measured via particle showers that are activated by them in the Earth’s atmosphere and end up in the Earth’s surface. Typically, optical telescopes and particle detectors are used for this purpose. Long-term experiments with antenna stations in the surroundings of such particle detectors have established, however, that also radio waves can be used for analyzing cosmic rays.

We can observe radio waves all around the clock, whereas optical telescopes for particle showers work in clear nights only. Moreover, measurement with antennas is cheaper,” Frank Schröder lists the benefits of the new measurement technique. Compared to antenna fields used thus far, the future arrangement will also measure signals with energy smaller by a factor of 100. “With this setup, we will search for photons originating from our galaxy. An ideal location to do this is the South Pole, from where the galactic center can be observed day and night.” There, the galactic center is visible just above the horizon, which is not a problem for the novel radio technology, as radio waves are barely attenuated while crossing the atmosphere. “At the location of the IceCube experiment near the South Pole, we want to arrange antennas on a measurement field of about 1 km² in dimension. Within a measurement period of three years, I expect to obtain crucial indications as to where the highest-energy particles of our Milky Way are formed. We have a chance to find the highest-energy photons ever measured.”

Dr. Frank Schröder investigated radio detection of cosmic rays at the former KASCADE facility of KIT and at the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina during his doctorate already. Then, as a junior research group leader at KIT, he arranged the ‘Tunka-Rex’ antenna field for cosmic rays in Siberia within a cooperation project sponsored by the Helmholtz Association. Furthermore, Schröder was member of the board of the Young Investigator Network (YIN), a platform for early-stage researchers at KIT.

The ERC Starting Grant is awarded to exceptional early-stage scientists with two to seven years of experience since completion of the doctorate and outstanding research proposals. In response to the latest call for starting grants, 3170 proposals were submitted, of which 12.7% will be sponsored.

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