NWO VICI funding for slow-molecule physicist Steven Hoekstra

15 March 2022

Associate professor of experimental physics in Groningen and Nikhef researcher Steven Hoekstra receives a VICI grant for his work on the fundamental properties of the electron.

This was announced on Tuesday by the Dutch science funding agency NWO. Physicist Hoekstra (1975) leads the eEDM program at the Rijks University of Groningen. This project involves using special equipment to study the properties of the electron. The measurements are precise enough to find any deviations from what the existing particle theory predicts.

Steven Hoekstra (left) with part of his team in Groningen. PHOTO REYER BOXEM

Remarkably, the Groningen researchers do not use large particle accelerators such as those at CERN, but rather a decelerator for molecules.The electrical properties of the electron can be deduced from the properties of almost motionless molecules of barium fluoride.

In theory, the so-called electric dipole moment of the perfectly piont-like particles is zero.In theory, the so-called electric dipole moment of the perfect point particles is zero. Any deviation shows that the theory needs to be extended and in what direction. For example, the theory does not explain why the universe consists almost exclusively of matter, and not of anti-matter.

Improvements to particle theory are being sought along these lines in a number of places around the world. In the Van Swinderen laboratory in Groningen, the group is working on a special setup in which the molecules in a beam are brought almost to a standstill, after which the extremely strong electric field between the barium and fluorine atoms bound together is measured with lasers.

Researchers receive up to 1.5 million euros in VICI funding individually. This gives them five years to develop an innovative line of research and expand their group. In total NWO (together with ZonMW) awarded 34 VICI grants for 2021. This meant that more than 11 percent of all applications were accepted, with about a third of the grants going to a woman.