The Knut & Alice Wallenberg Foundation released yesterday the list of this year’s recipients of funding for research projects with very high potential. We were very happy to see that on this list appears Jan Conrad with the project “Discovering Dark Matter Particles in the Laboratory”, with a grant of SEK 28 883 000 (around 3 MEUR) for five years.
Congratulations to Jan for this generous grant! Jan is a Member of the OKC Steering Group and has for long been one of the key researchers in the satellite experiment Fermi-LAT, and the ground-based HESS detector, searching for indirect detection signals of dark matter in gamma-rays. This is complementary to accelerator searches at CERN’s LHC in the ATLAS experiment, where we also have an important involvement from the OKC. Up until now, we have not had any activity concerning direct searches of scattering of dark matter in underground detectors, but thanks to the new grant, the OKC will through Jan Conrad have an important role to play also in this area, through the the world-leading XENON-1t experiment in the Gran Sasso tunnel.
Actually, the direct detection method was to a large extent developed in the 1980’s and onwards by Katie Freese and her colleagues. As Katie is now with us in Stockholm (she is a co-signer of the successful Wallenberg proposal, as is OKC’s Thomas Schwetz and Christian Forssén of Chalmers, Gothenburg), we can expect this exciting new activity to flourish in Stockholm and at OKC.
The members of the Oskar Klein Centre had just noticed with satisfaction that we could keep the VR Linnaeus grant at the same level (increased by 10% in 2010) the second half of the grant period (until 2018), when even more exciting news reached us. First, our valued member of the International Advisory Board, Katie Freese from Michigan University, was announced as the new Director of Nordita, which is located in the neighbouring building to OKC.
Welcome to Stockholm, Katie!
The next positive surprise came yesterday, when the Swedish Research Council, VR, announced that Katie will receive a big excellence grant for astroparticle physics, namely 101 million Swedish Crowns (around 15 million US dollars) over 10 years. This grant was suggested to the VR by the Vice-Chancellor of Stockholm University, Astrid Söderbergh-Widding (see her blog about it).
The future of astroparticle physics in Sweden looks brighter than ever, I am sure that Katie will find the environment here excellent (as she has seen in her work in the OKC IAB), and now she can contribute to it in a substantial way. These are exciting times for all of us!
Katherine Freese is in Stockholm these days since she will be receiving a prestigious Honorary doctorate at Stockholm University on Friday, the 28th September. I met with her in one of the offices at the Oskar Klein Centre in front of cup of coffee to talk a bit with this energetic and fascinating scientist, and try to grab her secrets.
What was you reaction when you heard you will receive this title?
Oh I was very happy, I think it is really an honor to get this. First when Lars told me I was a candidate, and then when I got it, I was very excited. It is going to be great tomorrow. Although I am jetlegget I am not nervous at all, I am excited!
So let’s see if we can get to know a bit about your career then. Lets start from the beginning: how did you get the idea of studying physics and how you turned into a cosmologist?
My parents are both scientists. My father has been student of Heisenberg before turning into biology, and of course the role model I had in my family pushed me for a career in academics. But how did I get into physics, well, that was probably just by chance. I went to a summer school in relativity when I was 15 years old, and I though that was very interesting. But really, I though physics was a kind of broad field that could open many possibilities, and then I was good at it. I think this is the way many people choose what to study, by exclusion, if you are good at something and not every one else is, you have to go for it. I did not have passion for astronomy as a kid, not at all. Isn’t this how most people choose their field of work? I tried a number of different styles of physics (experimental high energy, solid state, etc) then I found my inspiration with cosmology. I was living in Japan for a while after I graduated from Princeton. I was only 20 e I was teaching English, and then I was hospitalized. I was so bored that I took a book called Spacetime Physics, by Taylor and Wheeler, and that really made an impression on me and really turned me on and made me wanting to keep on studying cosmology. And I also felt it was a challenge!