Max Planck Society founds sub-institute in Hannover

New centre for gravitational wave astronomy is being developed in cooperation with the University of Hannover

November 23, 2001

At its meeting on 23 November in Düsseldorf, the Senate of the Max Planck Society resolved to set up a sub-institute of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (headquarters: in the Golm district of Potsdam) in Hannover. The sub-institute is to carry out experimental research and thereby supplement the work of the theoretically focused main institute in Golm. Working closely with the Laser Centre and the University of Hannover, the Max Planck Society intends to use the new sub-institute to operate what will become an international centre for gravitational wave astronomy in the state capital of Lower Saxony.

Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves more than eighty years ago, but it is only today that the necessary technology is available to demonstrate these small curvatures of space and time and to observe the dark side of the universe. Since the pioneering period of experimental gravitational wave research, in the 1970s the Max Planck Society has had a leading international role therein. In 1994 the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, together with the University of Hannover, first set up experimental facilities in the state capital of Lower Saxony. The GEO600 project for the experimental investigation of gravitational waves was started in close cooperation with this effort. The gravitational wave detector built in this context is six times smaller than those developed in the USA and Italy. However, thanks to the use of state-of-the-art technology, it achieves a performance level comparable to the larger systems. Furthermore, the first test run has already been completed.

The Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics was founded in Golm in 1994. The research program incorporated into the theoretical orientation of this institute covers the entire spectrum of gravitational physics. The three departments are primarily devoted to the following topics: the general theory of relativity, astrophysical applications of relativity theory and quantum gravitation, and unified theories. Large-scale computer simulations at the institute’s own facilities are just as much a part of the everyday scientific routine as is undertaking work with other groups and participating in a variety of international projects, such as the aforementioned gravitational wave detectors GEO600 and LISA mentioned above. In addition, the institute coordinates an EU network on the theoretical fundamentals of gravitational wave astronomy and takes part in two other EU networks on quantum gravitation and string theory.

The University of Hannover is still closely involved in the research project. A cooperation agreement provides that the sub-institute be furnished with two experimental departments. In this regard, the Max Planck Society has placed a department under the management of a director (principal employment), while the University of Hannover has appointed Prof. Karsten Danzmann (born in 1955), who has held the Chair for Atomic and Molecular Physics at this higher education institution since 1993 as Head (secondary employment) of the second department.

Since 1990, Danzmann has been leading the gravitational wave group at the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching. As the scientist responsible for GEO600, the project being conducted together with the British universities in Glasgow and Cardiff, Karsten Danzmann has successfully coordinated the development and construction of gravitational wave detectors since 1994. In addition, the researcher has been the lead scientist of the LISA gravitational wave experiment for around seven years and has now taken over direction of the European Space Agency ESA. The joint project between ESA and the US space agency NASA is to be launched in 2011.

The two departments of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hannover are to move into vacant areas of the university. The federal state of Lower Saxony has agreed to assume renovation costs in the amount of around 25 million marks; on the other hand, the Max Planck Society will pay pro rata rent.


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