Particle accelerators and the beauty of fundamental physics

Teilnehmerbeitrag zur ANSA-Konferenz 2018 von Katharina Kolatzki

Large-scale particle accelerators are among the most complex and most expensive infrastructures ever built by humankind. International teams of scientists use these machines to keep pushing the boundaries of what we know about our universe and what it is made of. In my talk, I gave an overview about the different types of particle accelerators, for example the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. I laid out the fundamentals of how particles get accelerated and how scientists make use of them.

Bringing together people from all over the world to understand our universe

Additionally, I gave a brief introduction into my own specific field of research. My colleagues and me investigate the interaction between atomic clusters and intense light pulses. These light pulses are generated from accelerated electrons. For our experiments, we often travel to one of the few of such light sources that are spread all over the world. The goal of our fundamental research is to enable the live filming of very small free flying particles, e.g. an evolving protein structure.

Einstein’s famous formula and overcoming the fear of physics

Being in the field of experimental atomic and laser physics, I am quite familiar with certain reactions from people. On one hand, they are amazed and in awe of the questions of fundamental physics. But on the other hand, many people approach me with the firm conviction that they will just not understand anything at all.  Therefore, occasions like my talk at the ANSA conference in Halle always excite me: They give me a chance to eliminate a few of those fears and present my research to a diverse audience. And indeed: Those who attended my talk engaged in a very interesting and educating conversation with me. After one curious question, I even got to briefly explain one of the most famous formulas of physics: Einstein’s E = mc², which sets a direct relation between a particle’s energy and its mass. Although this is such a famous formula, I hardly ever come across it in my research. Still, it shows how something quite complex can be summarized in a rather simple equation. This endeavor to find simple beauty in our complex universe is what keeps me motivated in my work. I hope that with my talk, I could share this fascination and joy with the audience!


Katharina Kolatzki wurde in Deutschland geboren und ist u.a. bei Bremen und in Braunschweig aufgewachsen. Sie hat Physik in Berlin studiert und während ihres Bachelors zwei Semester in Kenia verbracht. Aktuell lebt sie wieder in Berlin und schließt ihr Masterstudium in Experimentalphysik ab. Sie ist seit 2016 ANSA-Mitglied.