Kluyver prize 2023 for KM3Net thesis Lodewijk Nauta

15 May 2023

Former Nikhef PhD student Lodewijk Nauta wins the Jan Kluyver Prize 2023 or the best English-language abstract in his dissertation on the first measurements with the KM3NeT neutrino telescope in the Mediterranean Sea.

This was announced Monday, May 15, by jury chairman Prof. Jos Engelen, former director of Nikhef. A sum of 2,500 euros is attached to the prize. The jury of former directors of the institute looked at a total of twelve theses from 2022.

Lodewijk Nauta received his PhD in June 2022 for his research on the functioning of the KM3NeT detector under construction on the sea floor near France. He analyzed what then 6 detector lines at 2.5 kilometers water depth could already say about traces of neutrinos and about the properties of these cosmic ghost particles. He also worked intensively on the further expansion of the neutrino telescope.

KM3NeT is a large international project that observes neutrino tracks from the cosmos via light they produce in the water of the deep sea. Nikhef is an important partner in this, where much of the hardware was designed and is still being built. Meanwhile, the French part of the detector has 18 active lines, with another 21 in the Italian part.

Nauta concluded that even with six detector lines, each with eighteen light-sensitive spheres, scientifically interesting results can already be obtained. The initial measurements are in line with other measurements of cosmic neutrinos. “But even more important was the conclusion that expanding KM3NeT will give another huge improvement,” Nauta now says.

In his analyses, he looked in particular at the so-called neutrino oscillations by which the three types of neutrinos keep changing identities. According to Nauta, that effect will be easy to study with Km3NeT. “Important because the neutrino sector in particular still has many questions. For example, which of the three is the heaviest? They’re going to be able to see that.”

Nauta wrote most of his thesis at the kitchen table in Bussum during the corona lockdowns. The summary, he says, was quite hard work. “I wanted to explain my work to people like my parents. They say they understand it now.”

Nauta (Amsterdam 1988) now works as a scientific project manager at the computer umbrella for higher education SURF, just like Nikhef at Sciencepark in Amsterdam. There he assists scientists in extensive computational projects through GRID, including from Nikhef’s experiments at CERN and elsewhere.

KM3NeT he still follows from a distance, out of scientific interest. “And because of the people I still know there. Fine nerds of just another breed than the nerds here at SURF.”

Nauta is buying a new house soon. There he can put the prize money to good use, he thinks.