“Space research enables human progress”

Space is an exciting subject of research

They hold the world together in its inmost folds: quarks are – along with other elements – basic constituents of matter. Charlotte Beelen is studying physics at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg and has made so-called quark stars the focus of her Bacherlor’s thesis. She is one of a total of 650 young researchers who were allowed to attend the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 2015 – giving her the opportunity to see and hear a total of 65 Nobel Laureates live and exchange ideas with some of them. In our interview, she told us which research celebrities she spoke to and why her discipline is so important.

Ms Beelen, you are a Master’s student of physics at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg. Your Bachelor’s thesis focuses on so-called quark stars. What exactly are they?

Charlotte Beelen

Quark stars are stars at the end of their life that are not massive enough to become a black hole. They are very dense: in them, the mass of several suns is compressed into a radius of about ten kilometres. So we don’t know how the matter in their interior behaves. One possibility is that they dissolve into their elementary constituents: quarks. For this eventuality, I have calculated the stars’ structure based on both the traditional theory of gravitation – Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity – and an alternative theory of gravitation.

Why, in your view, is space exploration so important – for nature and the environment, but also for humankind?

Motivation for research can come from different quarters: some researchers might set themselves the goal of using new technologies to improve our lives; many others pursue research to satisfy their curiosity. They want to learn how our universe works. In the case of space research, curiosity would appear to be the primary motivation. However, new technologies often evolve unexpectedly from areas of basic research. One example is the laser: when it was first developed, it was not yet possible to imagine the wide range of its applications. To this extent, I believe the exploration of space is important not only to satisfy a fundamental curiosity about the history of the universe but also for the progress of humankind.

What scientific subjects within your discipline do you find particularly fascinating and why is Germany’s research landscape the right place for you to tackle these subjects?

I’m particularly interested in astrophysics, which asks very fundamental questions: How did our universe evolve? Why does it contain matter? How are galaxies, stars and planets formed? On the face of it, that has little to do with our everyday lives and practical applications. But these are very essential questions that we have all asked ourselves at some point. German universities also offer researchers the opportunity to tackle theoretical questions of a fundamental nature, even if these have no obvious practical applications.

You attended the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 2015. What sort of experience was that and which Nobel Laureates were you able to meet and exchange ideas with?

The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting has a special atmosphere all of its own: it brings together highly motivated young researchers and Nobel Prize winners. All of them like talking about their own research – that was a great source of inspiration to me. Before the meeting, I was bent on talking to Brian Schmidt and Saul Perlmutter, who are pursuing research in astrophysics. And I did get to talk to them, resulting in some very exciting discussions. But during the meeting, I also realised that there are still plenty of exciting questions in other areas, like biology. So I also took advantage of the opportunity to exchange ideas with Nobel Prize winners from the field of biology, such as Elizabeth Blackburn.

Ms Beelen, thank you very much for the interview. We wish you great success in your future research work.