Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

Ralf S. Klessen receives EU grant for research on the first stars of the universe


Photo of Ralf. S. Klessen

(c) Prof. Dr. Ralf S. Klessen

Heidelberg, Nov. 28, 2013

Heidelberg astrophysicist Prof. Dr. Ralf S. Klessen is receiving a highly endowed grant from the European Research Council (ERC), an ERC Advanced Grant for pioneering researchers in Europe. The scientist will use this reward of about 2.5 million euros during the next five years to explore the physical processes that govern the formation of the first stars in our universe. Research activities at the Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics at the Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University will begin in February 2014.

In the ERC-funded “STARLIGHT: Formation of the First Stars” project, Prof. Klessen and his team will investigate the birth of the earliest stellar populations in our cosmos, which formed just a few 100 million years after the Big Bang. These first stars brought to a close the so-called “dark ages”, during which no light visible to the human eye existed. They also played a major role in the formation of the first heavy elements and in the birth of the galaxies as we know them today. “While we understand fairly well the physical processes that govern stellar birth in our cosmic neighbourhood in the Milky Way, we know very little about how the first stars of the universe came into being,” explains Prof. Klessen. “Current theories are to some extent highly speculative and there is no direct observation data.”

To gain deeper insight into the origin of the first stars, the Heidelberg astrophysicists will apply innovative theoretical and numerical methods in combination with detailed astronomical observations. This will allow them to learn more about where, when, and how the first stars in the universe formed, and what processes determined their statistical characteristics. They are also interested in how early generations of stars modified subsequent cosmic evolution and hence influenced the properties of galaxies today. The scientists hope to uncover the observable signatures of the first stars and use modern space-borne and Earth-bound telescopes to identify their physical properties.

Ralf S. Klessen (born 1968) studied physics at Munich Technical University with a study sojourn at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After completing his Diplom thesis at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, he earned his doctorate at Heidelberg University in 1998 with research activities conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg. As a postdoc, Ralf S. Klessen worked at Leiden Observatory (Netherlands) and the University of California in Santa Cruz (USA) before he became head of the “Theory of Star Formation” Emmy Noether Junior Research Group at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics in Potsdam in 2002. He habilitated in 2004 at the University of Potsdam and was appointed professor of theoretical astrophysics at Heidelberg University in 2006. Ralf S. Klessen is the deputy spokesperson of the Heidelberg “The Milky Way System” Collaborative Research Centre (CRC 881) and currently Dean of Studies of the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy.



Prof. Dr. Ralf S. Klessen
Centre for Astronomy of Heidelberg University
Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics
Phone: +49 6221 54-8978

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