About our research

All research of the Master’s specialisation Particle and Astrophysics is comprised in the Institute for Mathematics, Astrophysics and Particle Physics (IMAPP). In addition to research in the individual disciplines, IMAPP also fosters research that connects them. This provides a unique research environment for curious students, where mathematics teams up with high-energy physics (on topics such as quantum gravity or noncommutative geometry) or high-energy physics with astrophysics (on topics such as astroparticle physics or cosmic rays). 

Students get observation time at James Webb Space Telescope

Thanks to research by two Radboud students, in 2023 scientists from Radboud University will be able to use the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to look for the presence of sulphur dioxide in the atmospheres of three exoplanets. In his Master's thesis, Jesse Polman looked at the detectability of sulphur in the atmospheres of planets that are similar to Jupiter, but much hotter, known as 'hot Jupiters'. Polman: ‘We started looking at sulphur because it is relevant to planet formation, but it has not been studied very much.’ He discovered that a strong signal of sulphur dioxide could be detected in the atmospheres of hot Jupiters with a certain chemical composition. He predicted that such planets could be effectively studied with the JWST. In the months after his thesis was published, his predictions were immediately confirmed. Researchers asked undergraduate student Olaf Renes, to see which of the 5,000 currently known exoplanets have the right conditions to have sulphur dioxide in their atmospheres. With those planets and a proposal, a team of astronomers including Renes and Polman applied for observation time at the JWST. René Waters, astronomer at Radboud: 'The JWST really is a gold mine for scientists, it is a huge discovery machine. It is very special that we are allowed to use this remarkable instrument.'

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Research institutes

Institute for Mathematics, Astrophysics and Particle Physics

IMAPP carries out fundamental research in mathematics, high-energy physics and astrophysics with special attention for interdisciplinary topics. The overarching research theme is the origin and evolution of the universe and its underlying mathematical structures. The combination of research topics of IMAPP is remarkable. There are mathematicians working on statistics of diseases, astrophysicists looking at collisions of black holes and physicists trying to complete the standard model of particle physics. Even though IMAPP covers different research fields, scientists are working closely together on interdisciplinary research topics. Examples of research at IMAPP include the investigation of the Higgs boson particle, the image of a black hole and gravitational waves.

Research at extremely small and extremely large scales both require very large infrastructure, that often exceeds university budgets. IMAPP is therefore involved in several large-scale national and international collaborations. Students are encouraged to participate in these research projects as well. Every year, students of this specialisation go to Geneva to take part in the CERN summer school. In addition, we organise trips to other facilities for students who want to perform specific experiments for their internship.

Large Hadron Collider (LHC), Switzerland

The Large Hadron collider is a circular particle accelerator, built by CERN. Radboud University is involved in the ATLAS experiment, which is aimed at collisions of protons of extraordinarily high energy. One of the major outcomes so far is the discovery of the Higgs boson.

Pierre Auger Cosmic Ray Observatory, Argentina

This observatory is studying ultra-high energy cosmic rays, the most energetic and rarest particles in the universe.

European Southern Observatory (ESO), Chile

ESO has built and operated some of the largest and most technologically-advanced telescopes in the world. Findings include the discovery of the most distant gamma-ray burst and evidence for a black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

Event Horizon Telescope

In this project, worldwide existing and planned millimetre/submillimetre facilities are combined into a high-sensitivity, high angular resolution Event Horizon Telescope. Its first successes have been the image of the immediate environment of the supermassive black holes in the galaxy M87 and in our own Milky Way.

Learn more about how Master's students helped with the capturing the first image of a black hole in a interview with professor Falcke.

Low-frequency array for Radio Astronomy (LOFAR)

LOFAR is a Dutch ICT project, that connects radio telescopes in the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Sweden. Together, they can produce much more detailed information about the early start of our universe.

HiSPARC, The Netherlands

In the project HiSPARC, researchers provide secondary school students with a kit for a cosmic ray detector that they can install on the roof of their school. The information from all these different locations is highly valuable for determining the source of the cosmic rays.

Research departments

To give you an idea of the research performed at Radboud University, two relevant research departments are highlighted here. 

High Energy Physics

Department of High Energy Physics 

High Energy Physics (HEP) performs exciting, cutting-edge theoretical and experimental research in Quantum Fields, Particles and Gravity. Its scientific aim is to uncover the ultimate building blocks of matter, space and time and the fundamental laws governing their interaction at extremely high energies and short distances, beyond currently established theories.

Compact objects

Department of Astrophysics

The Universe forms a laboratory for extreme physics, in which events take place that cannot be recreated on Earth and which are settled at or even beyond the edge of our knowledge of physics. They involve the complex interplay between gas, dust, cosmic rays, gravitational waves and magnetic fields with planets, stars, black holes and galaxies. The Department of Astrophysics aims to understand these phenomena using theoretical, computational and observational approaches and by developing new high-tech (space) instruments.