HIM News

Erwin Schrödinger Prize 2021: Breakthrough for nuclear magnetic resonance and magnetic resonance imaging

The “Erwin Schrödinger Prize 2021 — The Stifterverband Science Award” of the Hermann von Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers goes to an international team at the Helmholtz Institute Mainz HIM, a cooperation of the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research and the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz: With the cost-effective and extraordinary amplification of magnetic resonance signals, the experts have developed a technique that has promising uses in analytics


Film on the award winners


For the production of a newly developed and improved contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with hydrogen gas, the scientists* Dmitry Budker (physicist, HIM), James Eills (chemist, HIM), John Blanchard (chemist, HIM), Danila Barskiy (physical chemist, HIM), Kerstin Münnemann (chemist, University of Kaiserslautern), Francesca Reineri (chemist, University of Turin), Eleonora Cavallari (pharmaceutical and biomolecular scientist, University of Turin), Silvio Aime (biological scientist, University of Turin), Gerd Buntkowsky (physical chemist, TU Darmstadt), Stephan Knecht (physicist, TU Darmstadt and NVision, Ulm), Malcolm H. Levitt (chemist, University of Southampton) and Laurynas Dagys (chemist, University of Southampton) receive the Erwin Schrödinger Prize, which is endowed with 50,000 euros. 


Nuclear magnetic resonance is one of the standard analytical methods used to determine the structure and dynamics of materials and living objects. Including magnetic resonance imaging, the method is used in chemistry, biochemistry and medicine, among other fields. In both methods, liquids are particularly well suited as contrast agents for examination. However, the methods used to date have reached their limits: The interaction of nuclear spins with their environment is very weak and the methods therefore have low sensitivity. This is where the new development comes in: To overcome this limitation, researchers have developed a series of so-called “hyperpolarization techniques”. These are chemical and physical techniques that can be used to prepare atoms and molecules in such a way that their magnetic resonance signals are amplified by a factor of about a million at a low cost.


Hyperpolarization techniques are complex and can currently only be used in a few clinics worldwide. This project only became possible thanks to the cooperation of a team of chemists, physicists, engineers, biologists and clinical practitioners. The team is made up of experts from Germany, England, Italy and the USA, and includes the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, the Helmholtz Institute Mainz, the Technical University of Darmstadt, the Technical University of Kaiserslautern, the University of Southampton and the University of Turin. The Helmholtz Institute Mainz, where the award winners conduct research, is jointly supported by the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt and the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.


“The goal of our scientific work is to provide easy-to-produce, safe and long-lived hyperpolarized molecules for both medical applications and research purposes,” says Dmitry Budker, Professor of Experimental Atomic Physics at the PRISMA+ Cluster of Excellence at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and Section Head at the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM). “Our method represents a major step and a decisive improvement in this process. We were able to achieve this through interdisciplinary and transnational collaboration. We are very pleased and proud that our long-standing and intensive research collaboration has been recognized with the prestigious Erwin Schrödinger Prize.”


Professor Paolo Giubellino, Scientific Director of GSI and FAIR, says: “The impressive results of this outstanding research team vividly demonstrate the overarching importance of close global networking in the scientific community. The Helmholtz Institute Mainz offers the researchers in this special collaboration an environment to enable top performance. I am therefore delighted and proud that this great scientific achievement is being honored with the Erwin Schrödinger Prize and convey my congratulations to all the researchers involved.”


“The impressive research work of this international winning team shows once again what science can achieve when it collaborates across disciplines and national borders,” says Otmar D. Wiestler, President of the Helmholtz Association. “The enormous amplification of magnetic resonance signals represents a crucial improvement for medical applications. I extend my heartfelt congratulations to the award winners.”


“The internationally staffed research team has done an outstanding job of successfully bringing together expertise from different areas of the natural sciences,” said Michael Kaschke, president of the Stifterverband. “This highly committed, interdisciplinary approach has improved magnetic resonance imaging analytics for medicine and research in a decisive way. It is precisely these outstanding projects that we want to honor and make visible with this award.”


With the Erwin Schrödinger Prize, Helmholtz and the Stifterverband jointly honor outstanding scientific achievements. The prize is intended to honor interdisciplinary research that has been achieved in border areas between different subjects of medicine, natural sciences and engineering and with participation of representatives of at least two disciplines.


Original Press release

Press release of the Helmholtz Association

Website of the Erwin Schroedinger Prize

Worldwide coordinated search for dark matter

Sensor network GNOME publishes comprehensive data in Nature Physics for the first time / Nine stations in six countries involved


An international team of researchers with key participation from the PRISMA+ Cluster of Excellence at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM) has published for the first time comprehensive data on the search for dark matter using a worldwide network of optical magnetometers. According to the scientists, dark matter fields should produce a characteristic signal pattern that can be detected  by correlated measurements at multiple stations of the GNOME network. Analysis of data from a one-month continuous GNOME operation has not yet yielded a corresponding indication. However, the measurement allows to formulate constraints on the characteristics of dark matter, as the researchers report in the prestigious journal Nature Physics.


GNOME stands for Global Network of Optical Magnetometers for Exotic Physics Searches. Behind it are magnetometers distributed around the world in Germany, Serbia, Poland, Israel, South Korea, China, Australia, and the United States. With GNOME, the researchers particularly want to advance the search for dark matter – one of the most exciting challenges of fundamental physics in the 21st century. After all, it has long been known that many puzzling astronomical observations, such as the rotation speed of stars in galaxies or the spectrum of the cosmic background radiation, can best be explained by dark matter.


"Extremely light bosonic particles are considered one of the most promising candidates for dark matter today. These include so-called axion-like particles – ALPs for short," said Professor Dr. Dmitry Budker, professor at PRISMA+ and at HIM, an institutional collaboration of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt. "They can also be considered as a classical field oscillating with a certain frequency. A peculiarity of such bosonic fields is that – according to a possible theoretical scenario – they can form patterns and structures. As a result, the density of dark matter could be concentrated in many different regions – discrete domain walls smaller than a galaxy but much larger than Earth could form, for example."


"If such a wall encounters the Earth, it is gradually detected by the GNOME network and can cause transient characteristic signal patterns in the magnetometers," explained Dr. Arne Wickenbrock, one of the study's co-authors. "Even more, the signals are correlated with each other in certain ways – depending on how fast the wall is moving and when it reaches each location."


The network meanwhile consists of 14 magnetometers distributed over eight countries worldwide, nine of them provided data for the current analysis. The measurement principle is based on an interaction of dark matter with the nuclear spins of the atoms in the magnetometer. The atoms are excited with a laser at a specific frequency, orienting the nuclear spins in one direction. A potential dark matter field can disturb this direction, which is measurable.


Figuratively speaking, one can imagine that the atoms in the magnetometer initially dance around in confusion, as clarified by Hector Masia-Roig, a doctoral student in the Budker group and also an author of the current study. "When they 'hear' the right frequency of laser light, they all spin together. Dark matter particles can throw the dancing atoms out of balance. We can measure this perturbation very precisely." Now the network of magnetometers becomes important: When the Earth moves through a spatially limited wall of dark matter, the dancing atoms in all stations are gradually disturbed. One of these stations is located in a laboratory at the Helmholtz Institute in Mainz. "Only when we match the signals from all the stations can we assess what triggered the disturbance,"said Masia-Roig. "Applied to the image of the dancing atoms, this means: If we compare the measurement results from all the stations, we can decide whether it was just one brave dancer dancing out of line or actually a global dark matter disturbance."


In the current study, the research team analyzes data from a one-month continuous operation of GNOME. The result: Statistically significant signals did not appear in the investigated mass range from one femtoelectronvolt (feV) to 100,000 feV. Conversely, this means that the researchers can narrow down the range in which such signals could theoretically be found even further than before. For scenarios that rely on discrete dark matter walls, this is an important result – "even though we have not yet been able to detect such a domain wall with our global ring search," added Joseph Smiga, another PhD student in Mainz and author of the study.


Future work of the GNOME collaboration will focus on improving both the magnetometers themselves and the data analysis. In particular, continuous operation should be even more stable. This is important to reliably search for signals that last longer than an hour. In addition, the previous alkali atoms in the magnetometers are to be replaced by noble gases. Under the title Advanced GNOME, the researchers expect this to result in considerably better sensitivity for future measurements in the search for ALPs and dark matter.


Budker Lab at the JGU Institute of Physics

PRISMA+ Cluster of Excellence

original Press release

HIM News

Delivery of first HELIAC-cryomodule (Advanced Demonstrator) to the HIM lab

The first cryostat for the superconducting cw-linear accelerator HELIAC (HElmholtz LInear ACcelerator) has been recently delivered to the HIM lab.


All cryogenic components, as RF-cavities and other optical elements, will be assembled to a so called accelerating (cold) string in the HIM clean room and later on integrated into the cryostat. The HELIAC is the central R&D project of the ACID1 section, which will provide high-intensity heavy ion beams of best quality in the future, especially for the heavy element experiments. Final transport of the completely assembled accelerator module to the GSI campus and first heavy ion beam tests are foreseen until mid of 2022. 

Giersch Excellence Grant 2021 to Simon Lauber and Julian List

Simon Lauber and Julian List, both PhD students in the ACID1 section at the Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM), have been awarded a "Giersch Excellence Grant" for outstanding scientific work in the thesis project in the past year. The grant includes a funding sum of 2.500 € each.



The topic of Simon Lauber's PhD thesis is “Advanced numerical and experimental beam dynamics investigations for the cw-heavy ion linac HELIAC (HElmholtz LInear ACcelerator)”.


The HELIAC performance depends critically on the careful design of the normal-conducting injector linear accelerator part and the well-considered way of beam matching from the normal-conducting to the superconducting part of the HELIAC. Within the scope of his doctoral thesis, there were very decisive and forward-looking contributions, which are of immense importance for the realization of the entire HELIAC project. In order to provide for proper matching in the phase space area, the complete six-dimensional phase space must be explicitly known. Recently sufficient experimental data from a novel bunchshape measurement device has been collected to reconstruct the longitudinal beam characteristics with a newly developed algorithm. With this the beam matching is ideally sufficient to exploit the full performance capabilities of the superconducting HELIAC sections. To adapt the transverse phase space to the limited acceptance of the superconducting part, Simon Lauber designed and built a complex beam collimation system and put it to use. This novel beam diagnostic tool enables the pinpoint measurement of the HELIAC acceptance and, together with the method for reconstructing the longitudinal phase space, is the crucial tool for tuning and optimizing the future HELIAC. In addition, essential beam dynamic studies were performed for the construction of a high performance IH drift tube accelerator structure for the acceleration of heavy ions in cw-mode. The APF-structure used for this purpose allows the Alternating Phase Focusing method to be used without any additional focusing lenses, such as quadrupoles and bunchers, so that a very compact and efficient accelerator structure could be designed.


Supervisors: Stepan Yaramyshev, Winfried Barth



Julian Lists PhD thesis is dedicated to “High power RF-coupling for the superconducting HELIAC RF-cavities”.


The HELIAC is planned as a superconducting continuous wave (cw) heavy ion linear accelerator that comprises novel Crossbar H-mode (CH) cavities. One of the most important key component of RF cavities is the so-called power coupler, which ensures that the RF power provided by the RF transmitter is transferred to the cavity in order to make the electromagnetic fields required for particle acceleration available – there with maximum efficiency and precision. The first operations of the cavity showed that the prototype of the RF-power coupler needs to be further improved. A new version of the coupler has been already designed by Julian List with the main objective to reduce the heat input into the cryostat caused by the coupler. The dimensions of couplers have been evaluated with CST Microwave Studio Suite and cross checked analytically with a so called S-matrix calculation. Besides the coupler has been designed in modular construction. This enables the accessibility and improved maintenance of the power coupler. Meanwhile a prototype coupler has been built and successfully tested at a dedicated coupler test stand, which was specially developed by Simon Lauber for this purpose. Various cryogenic- and RF tests has been conducted at this newly built high tech test stand in order to provide a reliable, fail-safe high power coupler for the longstanding RF-operation of HELIACs superconducting section. A prototype of the coupler is meanwhile successfully accomplished. On the basis of the extensive coupler investigations and prototype testing, the complete series of couplers for all superconducting HELIAC RF-cavities has already been tendered and ordered. The development and scientific study of high-power couplers is the necessary basis for the design of modern high-efficiency accelerators, such as HELIAC at GSI and other ambitious accelerator projects worldwide.


Supervisors: Maksym Miski-Oglu, Winfried Barth


Stiftung Giersch

GSI Press release

Uhr 11:45
Wednesday, 17 August 2022
Helmholtz-Institute Mainz