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by Yannis Karyotakis - 13 March 2012

Particle physics, astroparticle physics and cosmology are research fields addressing fundamental questions about the origin of the universe. Observing structures far away in distance and time in our universe or the particles created at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, gives us insight about the birth and the evolution of our universe and helps us to understand the deepest laws of nature.

The research carried out by the partners of the ENIGMASS project aims at unveiling the fundamental laws of physics by exploring the origin of the mass of elementary particles, the origin of dark matter and dark energy, the unification of forces, etc.

The next decade will be crucial for this field of research. The LHC have started to record data and will continue doing so for 20 years. In parallel, the PLANCK experiment has started to scrutinise the sky more than two years ago. PLANCK addresses questions like the structure of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), and hints to inflation at the very early stage of the universe. The AMS and HESS experiments search for anti-matter and dark matter in space. Precise astroparticle and cosmology experiments will and are expected to bring answers on the dark matter and perhaps the dark energy. All these experiments are complementary and aim to understand the origin of the universe. New theoretical models and revolutionary mathematical methods are emerging. Bringing together all the researchers working on these projects in synergy and combining their expertise will strongly develop the scientific potential for discoveries.

In the coming years important decisions on the future of this field of physics will be made. It is therefore the time for ENIGMASS partners to strengthen the links between their laboratories and universities, and get prepared to face new challenges by building in the Alpes a unique centre of expertise dedicated to fundamental research and training and technology transfer.

Along a virtual geographical line starting from Geneva and running south-east to Grenoble, more than 200 scientists and technical staff from LAPP, LPSC, LAPTh, LSM share the same fundamental questions. CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research), located at the Swiss border, is a major research site for all the partners of the ENIGMASS project. The LSM (Laboratoire Souterrain de Modane) laboratory is unique in France and Europe. It offers excellent observational conditions for neutrino physics and dark matter direct searches. The aim of the laboratories of the ENIGMASS consortium is to reinforce their solid existing collaborations, develop new ones, coordinate together their scientific programmes, and share efficiently their technical resources. This Labex project focuses on one scientific challenge: the origin of the mass and its diverse implications.

The mass in contemporary physics emerges in two frameworks: a) its origin, involving at the microscopic level, the mechanisms though which elementary particles acquire mass, b) at the astrophysical and cosmological levels. In the first one the Standard Model (SM) relies on the Higgs mechanism which the LHC data should validate or refute very soon. Beyond the SM a plethora of models exist that will also be confronted with the future LHC data. The neutrino masses and oscillations are still a puzzle despite recent important progress. In the second one the mass is the probe to unravel the structure of the universe, uncover violent astrophysical phenomena, look for gravitational waves and confront general relativity. The aim of this project is to create a profound synergy between physicists from different fields (from particle physics to cosmology) who use different methodological approaches (from mathematical physics to instrumentation) and share a common interest for the enigma of mass. To successfully achieve this goal our strategy is to greatly enhance our attraction capability in conjunction with an innovative education offer, allowing for the development of fruitful collaborations breaking the barriers between disciplines.

The current successful centre CIPHEA (Centre International de Physique des Hautes Energies et d’Astrophysique), which welcomes high level foreign researchers, will be at the forefront of the attraction policy. This project will allow CIPHEA to grow, and create the critical mass to address efficiently, the mass problem.

This Labex is led by a consortium of three A+ laboratories in the AERES assessment, LAPP, LPSC, and LAPTh while the LSM has not been evaluated. As recognition of the scientific excellence, numerous distinguished national and international prizes awarded to researchers of the partner laboratories during the last years: silver and bronze CNRS medals, Joliot Curie prize, Bogolioubov prize, Max Planck medal, membership of IUF (Institut Universitaire de France) etc. The ENIGMASS project relies on qualified teams and recognized infrastructures that are involved in international large-scale projects which have attracted international, national and regional grants: EU FP6 and FP7 calls, ANR grants, Rhone-Alpes region and Conseil Général de la Haute Savoie. Concerning education, the ENIGMASS project will take advantage of the different programmes in which the consortium members are involved, Master and Doctoral programmes, and its special educational platforms for subatomic physics such as the subatomic training facility. This unique resource available at LPSC trains more than 500 master students each year. To increase its performance and to transfer the high level of knowledge developed through research activities, the consortium wishes to implement an ambitious action plan, offering transverse actions as well as targeted actions for professional training for example.

Concerning spin-offs and technology transfer from fundamental research, ENIGMASS will take advantage of the existing collaborations of its laboratories with industry. Six topics have already been identified as potentially carriers of economic fallout for the socio-economic sector: Nuclear industry, Health technologies (cancer treatment), Materials sciences technologies, Mechatronics, Fast electronics, Grid and cloud software developments, and green computing.

ENIGMASS is supported by the PRES Université de Grenoble, and the CNRS and is positioned coherently with the objectives of the IN2P3 (Institut National de Physique Nucléaire et de Physique des Particules CNRS), the agency that defines the global French strategy for the discipline.

The PRES Université de Grenoble aspires to develop a high level education and to promote excellent research in connection with the socio-economic world. Therefore the ENIGMASS Labex is a strategic element for the PRES development for the future.