What is the universe made up of? Why is there matter, but no antimatter? What is dark matter, what is dark energy? How can you explain the physics of black holes or supernovas?
These are the important research topics being investigated by the scientists at the MPP. We still know very little about the universe. At present, certain knowledge exists only for visible matter, which makes up only five percent of the universe: atoms, molecules, stars and galaxies.
95 percent of the universe is still in the dark - quite literally: Scientists assume there are further, invisible forms of matter and energy, which they therefore call “dark”.
In order to bring light into this dark, our physicists study the smallest building blocks of our universe: elementary particles, which form matter and bring about their mutual interaction. The framework for this research is the Standard Model of physics.
It contains the known particle families and the forces that act between these particles. The most recent addition to the family is the Higgs boson, which provides mass to other elementary particles.
The Standard Model can conclusively explain the known part of the universe, i.e. five percent of it. But it leaves many questions, such as those relating to antimatter, dark matter or dark energy, unanswered.
Celestial objects such as supernovas, neutron stars or black holes also pose mysteries for us: How do they form and evolve? What is the release mechanism for the huge amounts of energy which we can observe with telescopes? These questions could also be answered by a physics which goes beyond the Standard Model.
Our scientists are searching for this “new physics”. Theoretical physics works with mathematical models that are based on quantum mechanics. It includes phenomenological studies as well as the further development of current theories from astroparticle physics or cosmology. A special significance is afforded here to string theory, which allows two previously irreconcilable concepts to be unified: The General Theory of Relativity and quantum physics.
Experimental physicists, in contrast, put their faith in innovative technologies and instruments to track down unknown particles and interactions. Examples are experiments on accelerators and high-sensitivity detectors, which can unearth rare particles and decays.
The MPP physicists conduct their research on numerous experimental setups. Many of them have already been shut down: experiments are no longer conducted, data acquisition is completed. Current research is based on the data and findings of earlier experiments, however. How can the data of historical experiments be stored, how can they be made accessible for today’s systems? MPP scientists are working intensively on the topic of data preservation.
© 2019 Max Planck Institute for Physics, Munich