Research field "Matter"

Research field coordinator: Prof. Helmut Dosch, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY)

Participating Helmholtz Centres

  • Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY)
  • Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ)
  • GSI Helmholtz Centre For Heavy Ion Research
  • Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie (HZB)
  • Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR)
  • Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht – Centre for Materials and Coastal Research (HZG)
  • Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

Programme: The Structure of Matter research field will enter the new programme period with the shortened name “Matter” and a very different programme structure. From 2015, the research field will be dividing its activities between three programmes:

  • Matter and the Universe
  • From Matter to Materials and Life
  • Matter and Technologies

Scientific challenges

In the Matter research field, the abovementioned Helmholtz Centres DESY, FZJ, GSI, HZB, HZDR, HZG and KIT are investigating the structure and function of matter in all its manifestations – from elementary particles and their basic interaction through to complex molecular structures in materials and biological systems. In so doing, the research field is providing the basic foundation of knowledge needed to gain a better understanding of our universe and to design the customised materials and substances of the future. The major questions and challenges for which the research field aims to provide answers and solutions in the coming years include:

  • Gaining a better understanding of the origin and evolution of our universe at the quantum level
  • Investigating the various forms of cosmic and exotic matter in the laboratory
  • Understanding and testing the function of matter, new materials and substances at the molecular level and on relevant time scales

To better meet these challenges, the research field has been restructured into three programmes. The first programme, Matter and the Universe, brings together particle physics activities in elementary particle physics, hadron physics, nuclear physics and astroparticle physics. The second programme, From Matter to Materials and Life, deals with internally funded research on large-scale scientific devices that the research area develops, builds and operates and that are part of a large-scale research infrastructure. The third programme comprises research and development for accelerator and detector physics, which form the foundation of the first two programmes and, by extension, of the research field as a whole.

Evaluator statements and recommendations for the Matter research field as a whole

The evaluators rated the scientific quality of all programmes and the participating centres as excellent by both national and international standards, and pointed to their particular strategic relevance for society, industry and research. This fundamentally positive outcome is accompanied by a number of evaluator statements and recommendations that have great significance for future activities. They considered the topic of big data to be particularly significant for several programmes, especially as regards data management and analysis. Accordingly, developments in the context of ongoing activities such as Large Scale Data Management and Analysis (LSDMA), the High Data Rate Initiative (HDRI), and grid computing and supercomputing need to be consistently incorporated into future considerations and activities in a way that makes good use of synergies, while links to activities in the other research fields need to be established and strengthened. In light of its growing importance, this collaborative initiative that spans research fields is to be extended to include analysis and simulation of complex structures.

Funding recommendations for the Helmholtz Senate

A total of €513 million in funding is earmarked for this research field in 2015, and that amount is to grow by around three percent annually. Special funding was also approved to cover operating costs and construction costs for large-scale research facilities.

Key priorities and evaluators’ assessments of the individual programmes within the research field

Matter and the Universe

Lead evaluator: Prof. Felicitas Pauss, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), Switzerland

This programme brings together elementary particle physics and astroparticle physics, hadron and nuclear physics, and atomic and plasma physics to answer fundamental questions about the origin, structure and future of the universe. It also examines the basic components of matter and how they interact as well as the emergence of complex structures. Helmholtz researchers tackle these questions in large international collaborations. The three Helmholtz Alliances “Physics at the Terascale”, “Extreme Densities and Temperatures – Cosmic Matter in the Laboratory”, and “Astroparticle Physics” combine expertise from other research centres, universities and Max Planck Institutes. They have unique large-scale devices and facilities at their disposal: the world’s largest particle accelerator, the LHC at CERN; accelerator complexes at GSI and FZJ; and numerous large-scale detectors, subterranean laboratories and observatories that enable them to peer deep into the cosmos. The evaluators felt that the proposed programme topics were sophisticated and ambitious as they cover fundamental questions in elementary particle physics, astroparticle physics, hadron physics and nuclear physics. They stated that the implementation of these plans makes participants in the Helmholtz Association leading partners at the cutting edge of the international research community.

Contact: Programme spokesperson: Prof. Johannes Blümer, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Press office: Monika Landgraf, +49 (0)721 608-47414, monika.landgraf(at)


From Matter to Materials and Life

Lead evaluator: Prof. William Stirling, Institut Laue-Langevin (ILL), France

This programme conducts internally funded research on the large-scale devices operated by Helmholtz. Using state-of-the-art radiation sources and large-scale facilities, researchers investigate structures, dynamic processes and functions of matter and materials. They work closely with partners from universities and industry, with research focuses including: investigating transitional states in solid matter, molecules and biological systems; working on customised intelligent functional materials; and designing new materials for the energy sector, transport systems and information technologies. A further aim of the programme is to improve the molecular structure and properties of agents and active ingredients. To enable them to work towards achieving this, international research groups and cooperation partners can use large-scale neutron and ion facilities as well as high field magnetic laboratories, and international facilities such as the European XFEL and FAIR will be available in future as well. The evaluators support the aims of the programmes as well as their declared structure and organisation. They attest to the high international standing of this internally funded research on large-scale research facilities. The evaluators felt that the strategies and expansion plans sketched out in the programme proposal are well coordinated and aligned with the roadmaps of international research infrastructures. The evaluators consider them to be completely consistent with the Helmholtz Association’s mission.

Contact: Programme spokesperson: Prof. Andreas Schreyer, Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht

Press office: Torsten Fischer, +49 (0)4152 87-1677, torsten.fischer(at)


Matter and Technologies

Lead evaluator: Prof. Francesco Sette, European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), France

This programme grew out of two current portfolio themes with the aims of combining the technological know-how of various Helmholtz Centres and strategically developing the research field further. Its challenges and goals include studying and developing new accelerator technologies and developing new detector systems for a diverse range of applications. Further research goals are to advance current activities dealing with supercomputers and data storage. The programme is intended to facilitate the basic transfer of knowledge among Helmholtz Centres, research organisations, industry, and the Helmholtz Association research fields as well as strengthen partner networks. The evaluators praised the Helmholtz Association’s ambitious goal of setting up a new programme and bringing six Helmholtz Centres together to research and develop particle accelerators and detectors. The establishment of the two programme topics Accelerator Research and Development and Detector Technology and Systems is viewed as extremely promising and profitable for science. The evaluators fully support the programme proposal as well as the proposed programme structure and organisation. The evaluators are in absolute agreement that the programme topics are of key importance for the Matter research area.

Contact: Programme spokesperson: Dr Ties Behnke, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY)

Press office: Thomas Zoufal, +49 (0)40 8998-1666, thomas.zoufal(at)

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