Start of a new scientific era

Professor Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo awarded the Leibniz Prize


Professor Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo has been awarded a Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize 2022 by the German Research Foundation (DFG), endowed with prize money of 2.5 million euros. The most prestigious German research prize with the largest amount of prize money has thus been awarded to an outstanding scientist working at the interface of the fields of astro, nuclear and neutrino physics. Martínez-Pinedo carries out research and teaches at the Institute of Nuclear Physics at TU Darmstadt and the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt.

“We congratulate the prize-winner Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo for this outstanding award”, says Professor Tanja Brühl, President of TU Darmstadt. “He has ushered in a paradigm shift in research into the synthesis of heavy elements. Researchers such as Martínez-Pinedo strengthen the role of the Technical University of Darmstadt and the GSI Helmholtz Centre, which have together become an internationally renowned and outstanding centre for nuclear and astro physics. We are proud that we have another Leibniz prize-winner in Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo who is shaping research into matter and materials at TU Darmstadt. His expertise also strengthens the ELEMENTS cluster of excellence funded by HMWK, which we are jointly developing with Goethe University.”

The work carried out by physicist Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo has helped find an answer to one of the biggest unresolved problems in physics in the 21st century: Where does nature form heavy elements such as the precious metals gold and platinum? In cooperation with scientists in the USA, Martínez-Pinedo has demonstrated that these elements are synthesised during the merger of neutron stars and that a clear electromagnetic signal – a light curve – is generated during this process, which Martínez-Pinedo and his colleagues have termed ”kilonova”. A kilonova was observed for the first time in 2017, simultaneously through both light and gravitational waves. This scientific milestone, in which Martínez-Pinedo played a part, is considered to mark the birth of multi-messenger astronomy and has opened up totally new scientific possibilities.

Researchers such as Martínez-Pinedo strengthen the role of the Technical University of Darmstadt and the GSI Helmholtz Centre, which have together become an internationally renowned and outstanding centre for nuclear and astro physics. (TU-President Tanja Brühl)

After the completion of the international accelerator facility FAIR in Darmstadt, it will be possible in future to investigate the processes in nuclear physics responsible for the merging of stars and nucleosynthesis at a qualitatively unprecedented level in the laboratory. This opens up the possibility of using detailed information from gravitational wave and light curve signals to decode the merging of two neutron stars and answer some fundamental questions – such as how two merging neutron stars become a black hole, whether a new form of matter, “quark matter”, is formed during this merger and whether merging neutron stars are the only place where heavy elements are synthesised via the r-process in astrophysics. Most of the nuclei involved in the r-process are extremely short-lived and it is thus necessary to model their characteristics theoretically in order to research the r-process. Martínez-Pinedo has played a leading role globally in this field over the last few years.

Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo brings together expertise from the fields of astro, nuclear and neutrino physics and is thus able to assume a leading role globally in such as highly interdisciplinary field of research.

I am extremely delighted about this decision of the German Research Foundation and the great appreciation of the excellent scientific work of Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo. At the same time, the award is a proof of the outstanding opportunities in the research area of Darmstadt, at GSI and FAIR as well as at TUD. With FAIR, we will be able to further extend the perspectives of such groundbreaking research as conducted by Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo and enable further important pioneering achievements. Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo is one of the key players in the research community as a world-renowned expert on the formation of chemical elements in the universe. (Professor Paolo Giubellino, Scientific Managing Director of FAIR and GSI)

Another highlight in the scientific career of Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo was the discovery of the “υp process” – a nucleosynthesis process that occurs during a supernova. The physicist has more recently focussed on describing the interaction between neutrinos and matter in a supernova. At TU Darmstadt and the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo is head of the working groups in theoretical nuclear astrophysics. His work at both research institutes has made a significant contribution to establishing Darmstadt as a global centre for nuclear astrophysics.

The Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize has been awarded by the DFG since 1986 to scientists working in various different disciplines in Germany. Up to ten prizes each endowed with prize money of 2.5 million euros are awarded every year. The Joint Committee of the German Research Foundation (DFG) awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize 2022 today to ten scientists. They were selected from 134 nominees. Amongst other things, the prize money is awarded to expand the research opportunities of the winners; the winners can use the money for up to seven years to conduct their own research work as they wish without any bureaucratic restraints.

About Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo

Gabriel Martínez-Pinedo studied theoretical physics at the Autonomous University of Madrid and received his PhD there. His career has included further research at the California Institute of Technology and the Universities of Aarhus, Basel and Barcelona. He has worked at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Darmstadt since 2005, where he is head of the Theoretical Nuclear Astrophysics Group, and was appointed as a Director of the Helmholtz Research Academy Hesse for FAIR in 2020. Since 2011, Martínez-Pinedo has been a Professor of Theoretical Nuclear Astrophysics in the Department of Physics at TU Darmstadt. He has won numerous awards and last year received, for example, an ERC Advanced Grant for the project “Probing r-process nucleosynthesis through its electromagnetic signatures (KILONOVA)”. He is a much sought-after speaker at international conferences, represents his field of research on important international committees and publishes in renowned scientific journals.

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Previous Leibniz Prize winners at TU Darmstadt

  • Professor Dr. Frank Steglich Solid-State Physics, 1986)
  • Professor Dr. Bernd Giese (Organic Chemistry, 1987)
  • Professor Dr. Johannes Buchmann (Computer Science, 1993)
  • Professor Dr. Thomas Weiland (Electrical Engineering, 1998)
  • Professor Dr. Jürgen Rödel (Material Sciences, 2009)
  • Professor Dr. Andreas Dreizler (Mechanical Engineering, 2014)