Lichtenberg Professor at ETAP group (Experimental Particle and Astroparticle Physics)
Matthias Schott is Lichtenberg professor of experimental particle physics at the JGU Physics department. Currently, he divides his time between Geneva and Mainz because he coordinates the standard model physics group of the ATLAS project which is being conducted at the CERN in Switzerland.
Matthias Schott can hardly be reached in person these days, unless his students in the so-called on the JGU campus need him or he is teaching a class. All other working hours of his day currently go into the coordination of the Standard Model Group of the ATLAS experiment at the CERN in Geneva. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime project and I am grateful since my time as PhD student to be part of it,” Schott explains via Skype, the medium that today allows scientists to connect across the world. Simply being part of it sounds like a slight understatement. “Well, to put it in easy terms. You know what ‘normal’ project management is like in research,” Schott illustrates. “You can simply imagine this to be a really big project with close to 3,000 scientists working on building and operating this detector – and then analyzing all the data in order to understand what happened shortly after the Big Bang. Currently, I am helping to coordinate the work of physicists from all over the globe who want to test the so-called standard model of particle physics to highest precision.”
Stays abroad, foreign languages, and international networks
Managing big projects is something that all scientists are experts on nowadays. Hardly any research project today takes place without international cooperation partners. This also provides unique chances for physics students to go abroad, learn foreign languages, and expand their international network of colleagues with shared research interests. What also made him a preferred candidate for the task is his wide variety of job expertise. In addition to his studies, he also worked in industry in management consulting.
Awarded leadership and team spirit
When asked about how his management expertise and his current challenges go together, he denies. “This is incredible here. You cannot learn this anywhere until you do it. Even as an advanced scientist with so many research projects, being in charge of ensuring the smooth organization of a project like this is really challenging.” This also seems to apply to his students in Mainz who help build a new detector, a part for the future detector at CERN. A group of more than 10 Master and PhD students works with Schott on the Mainz campus. In 2014, the group even won the JGU Team Award for outstanding leadership and cooperation. When asked about their motivation to invest many hours of work, their answer sounds much like the one of their professor: “It is fascinating to be a part of a huge group of physicists around the world who all work on the most fundamental questions of the universe,” says Friedemann Neuhaus, one of the Master students of the group.
Answering fundamental questions with top-notch technology
The fundamental questions which Neuhaus is talking about are the ones that scientists, theologists and almost every human being on earth have asked at some point in their lives and human history. “How was the universe created? What is it made of? How does it work?,” Neuhaus enumerates. The unique advantage of asking these questions as part of the physics community at JGU is the technology that the researchers use for solving the puzzle of the creation of the universe. Or one should rather say – they build the technology themselves. “We are applying highly modern technology: special detectors and readout electronics to record the experimental events as well as the newest computer centers to save and analyze vast amounts of data,” Neuhaus explains. The complexity and scope of the project requires experts from many different fields to participate, for example, from detector construction, data taking, and analysis. “Every single person is needed to ensure the success of the project,” Neuhaus concludes, “and we all have the possibility to contribute but also learn a lot from the others.”
The only problem with such a wonderful opportunity seems to be that hardly anything can top such a once-in-a-lifetime chance thereafter. Matthias Schott does not worry about this. There is little risk that he might ever get bored. He seems to have many more interesting projects on his agenda. And as he admits: “I love what I do here at the CERN but I would not mind working a little less at some point in the future.” When observing the outstanding energy and research fascination he passes on to his students and colleagues in the lab, one indeed doubts that there will ever be an end to the flow of innovation in research in this group.
Website about Lichtenberg professorship: https://www.volkswagenstiftung.de/nc/en/lichtenberg-professorships.html More about Matthias Schott on his personal website: https://www.lichtenberg.physik.uni-mainz.de/