14 November 2018

Physics booming at UM

Maastricht University (UM) is gearing up to conduct more research in the area of fundamental physics. “The aim is to put UM on the map as a physics institute, in the eyes of other researchers as well as the general public,” says Gideon Koekoek, who joined UM’s research group on gravitational waves in 2017. “The construction of the Einstein Telescope in South Limburg between 2020 and 2030 could, if it eventuates, have an enormous impact from a technological perspective, but also socioeconomically.”

gideon koekoek
Gideon Koekoek

Underground laboratory

To measure gravitational waves with the greatest possible precision, a new tool is needed: the Einstein Telescope. The Limburg municipality of Heuvelland is, along with Hungary and the Italian island of Sardinia, among the top three potential locations for the telescope, which is to be built in the form of a prestigious laboratory on a vibration-free site 100 metres underground, with tentacles stretching out some 10 kilometres. In cooperation with a large number of academic partners, including UM, a lobby has been established and is working day and night to bring the Einstein Telescope to South Limburg.

Strong contender

According to Koekoek, the good soil composition in South Limburg makes the region a strong contender. “Bringing the Einstein Telescope here would give a boost to the entire region. Not only from a scientific perspective, but also socioeconomically. It will create jobs and attract researchers. Internationally, more than a thousand scientists are collaborating on the research into gravitational waves. If, somewhere between 2020 and 2022, the choice is made to establish the telescope in Limburg, that will add enormous value to the region which will also reflect favourably on UM. The faculty would immediately be linked with the world’s highest quality science and technology, meaning it would no longer be possible for the scientific leaders of the world to get around Maastricht.”

Maastricht University officially joined the Einstein Telescope Coalition of Nikhef and KU Leuven. The coalition will investigate the scientific and technological feasibility of establishing the Einstein Telescope in the border region around South Limburg.
During the Einstein Telescope meeting on September 13th in Maastricht, UM and the other partner universities signed: RWTH Aachen, UCL Louvain, Hasselt, Ghent, Antwerp, VUB Brussels, ULB Brussels, Liege, Radboud University Nijmegen, TU Eindhoven and Hamburg.

Depth and breadth

Koekoek is convinced that UM will make an important contribution to the research on gravitational waves in the coming years. “Our ambition is to better connect with current research around the world in the field of fundamental physics. The foundation of the Faculty of Science and Engineering in May this year will also help us to expand the depth and breadth of our teaching and research.” In addition, UM is now a member of the LIGO/Virgo Collaboration, the international team of academics leading the research on gravitational waves. The international LIGO/Virgo conference was held in Maastricht in early September, hosted by UM. “We’re just getting started,” Koekoek says. “But soon, nobody will turn their noses up at our physics.”

By: Graziella Runchina (text), Arjen Schmitz (photography)