Nikhef’s Theoretical Physics group performs theoretical research on a wide range of fundamental topics in high-energy physics, ranging from particle and astroparticle physics to cosmology, gravitational waves and string theory.
The Theoretical Physics group is at the centre of the programme “Higgs as Probe and Portal”, which is linked to research into the Higgs particle by for example the ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva. In July 2012 the existence of the Higgs particle was demonstrated by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the LHC.
The group is also involved in the cosmology programme “Observing the big bang: the quantum universe and its imprint in the sky”. This programme investigates what the cosmic radiation that we now detect can tell us about the quantum effects occurring during the first fraction of a second after the Big Bang. In this way we can improve our understanding of the origin of the Universe.
In the FOM programmes staff members of the Theoretical Physics group collaborate with postdocs and PhD students (both at Nikhef and at the universities collaborating with Nikhef) and with colleagues from experimental research groups. Much of the research done by the group is supported by Dutch and European research grants. The group also has an active visiting scientist programme, enabling very fruitful collaboration and cross-fertilization at the international level.
Researchers at the Theoretical Physics group not only have their own research lines but also closely collaborate with the experimental groups at Nikhef. This collaboration entails joint projects and PhD students, joint publications and many informal contacts.
For example, there are intensive contacts with Nikhef’s ATLAS and LHCb programmes, which have already led to proposals for new measurements, as well as to the development of strategies to minimize experimental uncertainties. There are also close ties with gravitational wave research, where methods have been developed to improve the simulations of binary systems.
This research programme is a prime example of fundamental scientific research, aimed at gathering basic knowledge about everything around us. At the heart of this type of research is curiosity about what our Universe is made of and how it came to be. There’s much that we know already, for example that all visible matter is built up from atoms, yet many questions remain unanswered.
Fundamental research is not aimed at realizing applications in the short term. Still, one thing is for sure: no one can predict which ground-breaking applications will eventually emerge from this research. History shows that today’s fundamental knowledge forms the breeding ground for tomorrow’s discoveries.
Ideeënmachine zoekt naar nieuwe natuurkunde (Theorie feature) (Dutch-only article from Nikhef special of New Scientist)