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New Perspectives for the Geosciences and Climate Research

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The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has opened up new perspectives for the geosciences, climate and environmental research with the announcement that it is to fund a new major piece of scientific instrumentation that is unique in Germany.

The DFG's Joint Committee approved funding for a 6 megavolt (MV) high performance accelerator mass spectrometer at its General Assembly in Bonn. The DFG will provide €5.5 million to fund the purchase of the new accelerator. It will be used at the University of Cologne, which prevailed against a number of other universities following a call for proposals.

This kind of apparatus will open up entirely new possibilities for German geoscientists and environmental researchers conducting basic experimental research in future, as DFG President Professor Matthias Kleiner emphasised during the debate by the Joint Committee.

The ability to gain new scientific insight in these disciplines depends increasingly on the ability to study specific nuclides, which are formed in the earth’s atmosphere by cosmic radiation, using high sensitivity, high resolution mass spectrometry.

They permit conclusions to be drawn about geomorphological processes and concerning the course and development of oceanic and atmospheric currents. “This makes them of fundamental importance for researching global climate change,” Kleiner underlined.

However, such studies are only possible using highly sophisticated equipment. The few accelerator mass spectrometers that have been available in Germany to date are not sufficient to meet current demand – they are primarily designed for performing carbon 14 dating or are too low-powered, with a terminal voltage of 3 MV.

This has meant that researchers from Germany have had to perform their experiments abroad, for example at the ETH in Zurich, Switzerland, or at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, USA, which involves long waiting times as well as being expensive.

This was why the DFG launched the call for proposals for a spectrometer with a terminal voltage up to 6 MV early this year. The proposals submitted in response to this call were reviewed by an international review panel, which decided to award the approval to the University of Cologne. The DFG’s Joint Committee followed their recommendation.

The spectrometer that has now been approved will give the researchers in Cologne, as well as all other researchers working in the field in Germany, the opportunity to conduct fundamental studies as well as to develop new methods and applications.