Exploring the Big Bang

Jean-Luc Lehners establishes a new research group at the Albert Einstein Institute

January 10, 2011

As a recipient of one of the coveted "ERC Starting Grants" (support funding from the European Research Council), Jean-Luc Lehners will come to the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute/AEI) where he will be setting up a Research Group focusing on string cosmology during the next five years.

The Big Bang is still one of the greatest mysteries in physics. In order to fully understand our universe, particle physics and cosmology must work closely together. Currently, the most promising theory that unites all physical forces and particles under one roof is the string theory. The description of cosmological phenomena within this theory, however, is still pending. With his Research Group, which will be funded by the European Research Council, Lehners wants to provide a remedy for this situation. He and his team are addressing fundamental questions, such as what the string theory can reveal about the Big Bang and if it really marked the beginning of the universe.

Pattern recognition in the data jungle

One of the goals of this research is to provide astrophysicists and astronomers with hints what to look for in the data: gravitational waves and the tiny temperature fluctuations in the cosmic background radiation which occurred during the Big Bang can provide information about the birth of the cosmos. “If we are successful in identifying certain patterns, we can supply astronomers with so-called ‘fingerprints’ of gravitational waves or primordial temperature fluctuations,” explains Lehners. “Equipped with this knowledge, they can then search their data for signals that stem from the period shortly after the Big Bang or even before that.”

Prof. Hermann Nicolai, whose Quantum Gravity and Unified Theories Department will be working closely together with the Theoretical Cosmology Group, adds:  “Lehners’ work is not only important for our collaborative efforts with experimentally-oriented physicists, we expect, above all, a better understanding of the fundamental theories and of cosmology.”

Dr. Jean-Luc Lehners (b. 1978 in Luxemburg) studied physics and mathematics at Imperial College in London and at Cambridge University. He did his PhD with a focus on gravitational theory in London in 2005. After postdoc positions in Cambridge and Princeton, the scientist, who is the recipient of numerous awards, began to establish his Research Group at the AEI in December 2010.

ERC Starting Grants

In 2010, the European Research Council awarded a total of 427 ERC Starting Grants. The Grant, which is intended for financing a research group for top young scientists, is much coveted and competition is strong: of the approx. 2900 applications, only 15% are approved. In the area of physics and engineering, 195 applications were approved, 35 of which were in Germany. Jean-Luc Lehners will receive funding during the coming five years to the tune of around 1.15 million euros for the establishment of his Research Group.

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