2021 FRIB Visiting Scholar Program for Experimental Science names award winner

Dennis Mücher from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, is the award recipient for the FRIB Visiting Scholar Program for Experimental Science 2021.

FRIB initiated the FRIB Visiting Scholar Program for Experimental Science in 2016. The goal of the program is to recognize outstanding junior researchers in FRIB-rated research fields and encourage them to establish a research program at FRIB. The award supports short-term stays at the FRIB Laboratory for junior/non-tenured faculty or staff members. The award consists of a stipend of $5,000 intended for travel and local expenses.

Mücher’s research focuses on nuclear structure and astrophysics as well as on applications in cancer radiation therapy. The goal of his research is to answer fundamental questions, such as how the elements in nature were made. At FRIB, he will continue this work and, as an application of rare-isotope beam technology, would like to establish an ultra-precise form of cancer radiation therapy using carbon ions. This breakthrough could significantly improve the effectiveness of particle beam therapy in treating cancer.

“What I really like about my research is that the same accelerator infrastructure (like FRIB), as well as detectors and equipment, can be used to create new opportunities for cancer radiation therapy,” he said. “For example, we are currently developing a new detector which will allow to measure the tracks of particles, like protons, very precisely. The same detector can tell us if a treatment beam delivers the full radiation dose to the tumor, and does not cause any damage at any sensitive organs. This can really be a game changer for people with a tumor which otherwise might not be treatable.” 

FRIB will allow for the production of extremely neutron-rich nuclei. Mücher’s goal is to have techniques in place to extract the required information once FRIB starts delivering the most exotic and heavy beams.

“Combined with the unique expertise in accelerator and detector development available at FRIB, I see a large future potential for FRIB to conduct breakthrough research in heavy-ion radiation therapy,” he said.

Additionally, Mücher noted that the recent breakthroughs in gravitational-wave detection allow a much closer look to the conditions under which heavy elements are formed in the Universe. A pivotal role is played by a process in which an isotope captures a neutron. Mücher’s research aims to provide reliable experimental data for the probabilities that these neutron captures happen in different astrophysical sites, which will benefit the larger nuclear physics community.

Mücher received a degree in physics and a PhD in physics from University of Cologne, Germany (Institute for Nuclear Physics). In 2009, he worked as a medical physicist in a hospital in Duisburg, Germany. He then joined the Technical University of Munich, Germany, first as a postdoctoral fellow in the physics department and then became an assistant professor. While there, he built up a group of young researchers interested in spectroscopy of exotic nuclei. Mücher is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph. His position is a joint position with TRIUMF, Vancouver, Canada’s national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics.