MAASTRICHT. A year or two ago, the Executive Board was hardly interested in the idea, but that has changed. There are no doubts anymore about the usefulness of a Maastricht Physics Group, studying gravitational waves. Moreover, it increases the chances of the Einstein Telescope coming to the South of Limburg in 2020.
For the moment, the group consists of Gideon Koekoek (38), a theoretical physicist who exchanged the Amsterdam Nikhef institute in September for the Science Programme, where he is going to set up the group. From the same institute, a professor occupying an endowed chair will soon be appointed at the UM too. Roughly estimated, the group will consist of five researchers in five years’ time.
Since gravitational waves were detected at the beginning of 2016, the field of study has become immensely popular. Look at what it has already brought about, says Koekoek. “A Nobel Prize and at least five physical and astrophysical mysteries have been solved. It is the type of discovery that will eventually change everything, marking a new phase in the understanding of the world.”
The UM is already benefitting from the collaboration with Nikhef, because all the data from recent breakthroughs are accessible to staff and students. The university would do more than benefit if the brand-new European detector, the so-called Einstein Telescope, were to end up in Limburg. The decision will be taken in 2020.
This detector consists of an equilateral triangle with ten-kilometre-long arms, up a hundred metres underground, says DKE researcher Ronald Westra, who came up with the idea of the physics group. “Through a 60-metre wide hole, a ‘mole’ will be lowered that digs tunnels in the soil. The combination of soft loess and the hard limestone layer, in which the tunnels will be dug, make the Limburg location extremely suitable.”
If Limburg were to be chosen, we will immediately have the most advanced equipment within reach, says Koekoek. “The Einstein Telescope is much more advanced than the setups in the US and Italy. They carry out measurements once every two months; in Limburg that would be hundreds of times each day. All this would give the UM a lot of prestige and attract large numbers of students.”
Hungary and Sardinia are the other competitors. If one of these regions were to be chosen, this will not be the immediate end of the physics group at the UM. “Certainly not,” says Koekoek. “The Einstein Telescope will be built anyhow. And no matter what, we will get access to the data.”