Press releases


Sep 21 2020

Physicists at Goethe University lead one of the technical refurbishments of “ALICE” for researching quark-gluon plasma

Physics: Collision movie with upgraded particle detector at CERN

The ALICE experiment at the particle accelerator CERN in Geneva has the aim of providing new insights into an extremely hot and dense state of matter, the quark-gluon plasma. The entire matter of the universe was in this state just a few millionths of a second after the big bang, and the ALICE experiment will help researchers discover how the universe developed out of this primordial soup. An international team of scientists led by the physicist Harald Appelshäuser from Goethe University Frankfurt have therefore upgraded the centrepiece of the ALICE detector to current state of the art technology.

FRANKFURT. For the moment, the accelerators at CERN are at rest during the “second long shutdown". During this time, the accelerators undergo upgrades and refurbishments so that more particles can be accelerated and the number of collisions will increase in the future. The detectors are also undergoing upgrades. But while the large all-purpose detectors ATLAS and CMS are not scheduled for larger upgrades until the next, and third long shutdown in 2025, the specialised detector ALICE will enter the upcoming measurement campaign already upgraded.

ALICE is a unique project among the research adventures surrounding CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC). While the other three detectors decipher what occurs in collisions of protons, the researchers in the ALICE experiment are concerned with lead ions – particles that are many times heavier. Each year, the LHC is operated with lead ions for one month so that the ALICE detector can collect data. The researchers want to learn more about a particular state of matter: quark-gluon-plasma. It is created inside the ALICE experiment when lead nuclei collide with each other at high energy and are dissolved into their elementary components for a short moment. In this hot and dense soup of matter, quarks and gluons, otherwise firmly attached in the protons and neutrons, can move around virtually freely. What happens during the collisions may provide insight into how our universe as we know it today was formed out of a giant primordial out of quark-gluon plasma.

Recording a movie instead of taking individual pictures

After the shutdown, the upgraded ALICE detector will show what it can now do: previously, the LHC accelerator delivered 10,000 collisions per second. At 18,000 particles per collision this amounts to 180 million particles per second, only a portion of which was able to be recorded by the ALICE detector. After the shutdown, the technological hurdles which have until now limited the number of recorded collisions will have been eliminated. The LHC should then deliver 50,000 collisions of lead ions per second, resulting in 900 million particles per second. “We want to record all collisions in entirety and, in fact, continuously, in other words, to record a movie instead of individual pictures," explains Harald Appelshäuser, Professor at the Institute for Nuclear Physics at Goethe University Frankfurt and project leader of the subdetector that will make the biggest difference after the upgrade.

Detector under construction

To achieve this, one of the central detectors of the 26-metre long and 16-metre high ALICE detector complex, the Time Projection Chamber (TPC), was removed and carefully brought from the underground detector cavern into a clean room on the surface. Different parts that were developed all over the world during the past several years were gradually and carefully installed. Now the technologically upgraded TPC has been returned to its home at the heart of ALICE.

The highlights are the new readout chambers which no longer consist of many fine wires, but basically of about five billion tiny holes. In these holes, the signals of the charged particles will be amplified so that the scientists can precisely calculate the track of each particle. These chambers are called “GEMs" – Gas Electron Multipliers – and are a CERN invention which has already found its way into medical procedures. 500,000 channels ensure that nothing escapes the ALICE experiment. Each second during the collisions later results in 3.4 terabytes of data.

New procedures must also be developed which can process this flood of data. With the participation of high-performance computing expert Professor Volker Lindenstruth and his colleagues, scientists from Goethe University will be playing a leading role here as well.  “We now have the finest of the fine and look forward to the first collisions," says Appelshäuser.

The new GEM readout chambers were custom fit for the ALICE experiment through testing and development in Germany – at Goethe University Frankfurt as well as at the Bonn and Heidelberg Universities, the Technical University Munich, and the GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung, and later assembled in different countries which in addition to Germany included Hungary, Finland, Romania and the USA. “The logistics were pretty complicated," explains project leader Appelshäuser. “The TPC was brought to the clean room in 2019 that was where we removed the older chambers and installed and tested the new ones. Luckily, we had just finished before the pandemic started."

During the shutdown ALICE will also receive a new inner tracking chamber, positioned closer to the collision point and further increasing precision compared to its predecessor. And the detectors have to be precise, for only through exact determination of particle paths and particle energies can conclusions be reached about the first split seconds of the universe.

Images may be downloaded here:

Caption: Working on the ALICE detector under corona conditions: from the left: Robert Münzer (Goethe University Frankfurt, GU), Chilo Garabatos (GSI Helmholtzzentrum für Schwerionenforschung), Lars Bratrud (GU), Yiota Chatzidaki (Heidelberg University), Christian Lippmann (GSI).
Credit: Robert Münzer

Additional images for download at CERN:

Further information:
Prof. Dr. Harald Appelshäuser
Institute for Nuclear Physics
Goethe University
Phone: +49 69 798-47034 or 47023


Sep 3 2020

Archaeologists from Frankfurt and Munich prove origins in the first millennium B.C.

New dating of Nebra sky disk

FRANKFURT. Until now the Nebra sky disk was deemed to be from the Early Bronze Age and therefore the world's oldest depiction of the cosmos. Archaeologists from Goethe University Frankfurt and Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich have now reanalysed diverse data on the reconstruction of the discovery site and surrounding circumstances of the find. Their findings are that the disk must be dated in the Iron Age, making it about 1,000 years younger than previously assumed. This makes all previous astronomical interpretations obsolete. 

The Nebra sky disk is one of Germany's most significant archaeological finds and was included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in 2013. It was discovered in an illegal excavation in 1999 together with Bronze Age swords, axes and bracelets according to the finders. This discovery context was important for the scientific dating, as the disk itself could neither be scientifically nor archeologically dated by comparison with other objects. Many years of investigations by several research groups therefore attempted to verify both the attribution to the supposed discovery site as well as the common origins of the objects independent of the vague information given by the looters.

Rupert Gebhard, Director of the Munich Archäologischen Staatssammlung, and Rüdiger Krause Professor for Prehistory and Early European History at Goethe University Frankfurt have now extensively analysed the discovery circumstances and research results on the Nebra sky disk. Their conclusion: The site that was considered the discovery site until today and which was investigated in subsequent excavations is with high probability not the discovery site of the looters. Furthermore, there is no convincing evidence that the Bronze Age swords, axes and bracelets form an ensemble of common origins. For this reason, it must be assumed that this is not a typical Bronze Age deposit and that the disk was not found together with the other objects in an original state at the excavation site.

According to the archaeologists, this means that the disk must be investigated and evaluated as an individual find. Culturally and stylistically, the sky disk cannot be fitted into the Early Bronze Age motif world of the beginning of the second millennium B.C. On the contrary, clearer references can be made to the motif world of the Iron Age of the first millennium B.C. According to Gebhard and Krause, on the basis of a divergent data situation and on the basis of this new assessment, all previous, sometimes far-reaching cultural-historical conclusions must be discussed anew and with an open mind, and the disk must be interpreted and evaluated in different contexts than before. The basis for this must be the submission of all previously unpublished data and facts.

More detailed information can be found on the website of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte (German Society for Prehistory and Early History)

Publication: Rupert Gebhard & Rüdiger Krause, Critical comments on the find complex of the so-called Nebra Sky Disk. In: Archäologische Informationen. Early View: citable online version with preliminary page numbering. After the printed volume is published, the final page numbers can be found in open access here: The printed volume can be obtained here:

Image download:

1. The condition of the Nebra sky disk before being transferred to the Landesmuseum Halle an der Saale. Credit: Hildegard Burri-Bayer
2. Bronze Age swords, axes and bracelets, supposedly found together with the Nebra sky disk. Condition before being transferred to the Landesmuseum Halle an der Saale. Credit: Hildegard Burri-Bayer

Further information:
Prof. Dr. Rüdiger Krause
Prof. Dr. Rupert Gebhard
Press Office of Goethe University Frankfurt
Dr Markus Bernards
Tel. +49 (0)69 798 12498


Aug 26 2020

International research group identifies three forms of disease progression for “acute decompensated liver cirrhosis” 

  When liver cirrhosis is deadly 

FRANKFURT. When the body can no longer compensate the gradual failure of the liver caused by liver cirrhosis, there is a high risk of acute decompensated liver cirrhosis. In some patients this develops quickly into an often deadly acute-on-chronic liver failure, in which other organs such as the kidneys or brain fail. A study by an international team of researchers headed by Professor Jonel Trebicka from the Frankfurt University Hospital and funded by the foundation EF Clif, has discovered which patients are particularly at risk. With their findings, the scientists have laid the foundation for the development of preventive therapy to prevent acute-on-chronic liver failure. 

The liver has many functions: it stores nutrients and vitamins, produces dextrose, coagulation factors and hormones, and breaks down toxins, drugs and alcohol. Chronic alcohol abuse, viruses or other diseases can damage the liver and lead to chronic liver disease. Without treatment, chronic liver disease leads to liver cirrhosis in the final stages, in which liver tissue turns into connective tissue, making the liver increasingly unable to carry out its functions. The result: the blood’s clotting ability is impaired, toxic metabolic products are fortified, the liver is not adequately supplied with blood and blood pressure rises in the portal veins that supply the liver.

The body tries to compensate for the reduced liver function. For example, new veins develop as alternative circulation from the oesophagus, stomach and intestines which expand into varicose veins. When the disease progresses to the point that this kind of compensation is no longer possible – physicians speak of acute decompensated liver cirrhosis – the situation becomes life-threatening: tissue fluid (ascites) collects in the abdominal cavity, leading to bacterial infections and internal bleeding, for example in the oesophagus. Difficulty concentrating, mood swings and sleepiness are signs of a poisoning of the brain (hepatic encephalopathy) that can result in a hepatic coma.

A European clinical study headed by Professor Jonel Trebicka, and carried out under the umbrella of the European Foundation for the Study of Chronic Liver Failure, has for the first time identified three clinical course variations in patients admitted to the hospital with acute decompensated cirrhosis.

1.    The first clinical course is characterised by high blood inflammation values, indicating inflammatory reactions throughout the body. Within three months after admission to the hospital, a number of body organs fail: the acute decompensation becomes “acute-on-chronic liver failure” (ACLF). The physicians therefore call this variation Pre-ACLF. More than half of patients die from it; only a third survive after a year.

2.    Patients with the second clinical course do not develop ACLF and have moderate inflammation values. They suffer, however, from significant hypertension in the portal vein. Approximately 20 percent die within the following three months, another 15 percent over the course of the following year. The physicians named this variation “instable decompensated liver cirrhosis”.

3.    The patients with the third clinical course exhibit neither high inflammation values nor frequent complications. They do not develop ACLF in the first three months. Within a year, however, one in ten dies. The physicians call this variation “stable decompensated liver cirrhosis.“

Lead investigator Professor Jonel Trebicka, gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Medical Clinic I of  University Hospital Frankfurt explains: “We are now working intensively on the development of new diagnostic options, especially for the group of pre-ACLF patients, in order to identify this group before admission to the hospital so that preventive measures can be implemented early on. The development of preventive therapies for the often deadly ACLF is one of our most important research goals in this context.”

Study co-author Professor Stefan Zeuzem, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Director of Medical Clinic I at Frankfurt University Hospital explains: “Liver diseases are one of the main focal points of Medical Clinic I and we offer numerous specialised outpatient departments for patients with acute and chronic liver diseases. So on the one hand we were able to observe patients for the study. On the other hand, the research findings on improving ACLF prevention and therapies will rapidly benefit all of our patients.”

The research findings are part of a European-wide study called PREDICT. The study observes the clinical course of acute decompensated liver cirrhosis in order to find early indications for the development of acute-on-chronic liver failures (ACLF). The study was funded by the European Foundation for the Study of Chronic Liver Failure. 136 scientists from 47 centres and institutions in 14 European countries are participating in PREDICT.

Publication: Jonel Trebicka, Javier Fernandez, Maria Papp, Paolo Caraceni, Wim Laleman, Carmine Gambino, et al.: The PREDICT study uncovers three clinical courses of acutely decompensated cirrhosis that have distinct pathophysiology. Journal of Hepatology,

Further information:
University Hospital Frankfurt, Goethe University Frankfurt
Medical Clinic I
Professor Jonel Trebicka
Section Translational Hepatology,
Medical Clinic I (Director: Professor Stefan Zeuzem)
Goethe University/University Hospital Frankfurt
Tel. +49 69 6301 80789 (Jennifer Biondo, secretarial office)


Aug 24 2020

Wastewater provides indication of the degree of infection in population 

SARS-CoV-2 viruses in wastewater: monitoring COVID-19 and estimating potential transmission risk

FRANKFURT/AACHEN. Since the beginning of the pandemic, research groups have been working on methods to detect SARS-CoV-2 viruses in wastewater to be used to monitor the degree of COVID-19 transmission among the population. The idea is simple: since infected people shed SARS-CoV-2 viruses in their faeces, wastewater samples could give an indication of the infection numbers among all the residents connected to a wastewater treatment plant. Given sufficient sensitivity, these analyses could function as an early-warning system for authorities, allowing early detection of local case increases within the catchment area of a treatment plant. 

A consortium of Frankfurt virologists, ecotoxicologists and evolution researchers, and water researchers from Aachen have now shown for the first time in Germany that SARS-CoV-2 genetic material can be detected in treatment plants using modern molecular methods. Analyses revealed 3 to 20 gene equivalents per millilitre of raw wastewater in all nine treatment plants tested during the first pandemic wave in April 2020. This concentration level was also measured in studies in the Netherlands and the USA.

The researchers were astonished that older retention samples from the years 2017 and 2018, before the outbreak of the pandemic, also delivered signals. Extensive method validation revealed that the gene primer erroneously registered not only SARS-CoV-2, but other non-disease causing coronaviruses in wastewater as well. The current method, developed specifically for SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, has been confirmed through gene sequencing.

The method can be now employed for what is called wastewater-based epidemiology: the measured viral load of a treatment plant allows conclusions on the number of COVID-19 infected individuals in the catchment area. In the largest treatment plant, 1,037 acute cases were estimated in the catchment area for a viral load of 6 trillion (6 x 1012) gene equivalencies pro day; in smaller treatment plants with viral loads lower by two orders of magnitude, 36 cases were estimated.

The sensitivity is sufficient as an early warning system to indicate whether the action value of 50 incidents per 100,000 residents has been exceeded. Earlier hopes that the precision would be sufficient to determine the estimated number infected people not reported through laboratory diagnosis have not yet been fulfilled. However, the scientists believe that further improvements in the methods are possible.

In vitro cell tests have shown that the SARS-CoV-2 fragments verified in the wastewater are non-infectious. However, due to the high loads and low retention capacity of conventional treatment plants, the behaviour of SARS-CoV-2 in the water cycle should be investigated more deeply. The authors of the study are working on making their knowledge available for an application of the method soon, with the goal of achieving a close cooperation between health ministries, environmental ministries, treatment plant operators and professional associations.

The research team was formed on the initiative of the non-profit Research Institute for Water and Waste Management at RWTH Aachen (FiW), the Institute of Environmental Engineering at RWTH Aachen (ISA), the Institute for Medical Virology at University Hospital Frankfurt (KGU) and Department for Evolution Ecology and Environmental Toxicology at the Institute of Ecology, Evolution and Diversity at Goethe University Frankfurt, and is supported by six water boards in North Rhine-Westphalia, the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG) and the University of Saskatoon in Canada.

Publication: Sandra Westhaus, Frank-Andreas Weber, Sabrina Schiwy, Volker Linnemann, Markus Brinkmann, Marek Widera, Carola Greve, Axel Janke, Henner Hollert, Thomas Wintgens, Sandra Ciesek. Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in raw and treated wastewater in Germany – suitability for COVID-19 surveillance and potential transmission risks. Science of the Total Environment.,

Further information

University Hospital Frankfurt
Institute for Medical Virology
Prof. Dr. Sandra Ciesek through
University Hospital Frankfurt Press Office
Tel. +49 69 6301 86442

Goethe University Frankfurt
Institute of Ecology, Evolution and Diversity
Dept. Evolution Ecology and Environmental Toxicology
and LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG)
Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Henner Hollert

Research Institute for Water and Waste Management at RWTH Aachen (FiW)
Dr. sc. Frank-Andreas Weber

RWTH Aachen University
Institute of Environmental Engineering (ISA)
Univ.-Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Thomas Wintgens


CARE (Corona Accelerated R&D in Europe), supported by Europe’s Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), is the largest undertaking of its kind dedicated to discovering and developing urgently needed treatment options for COVID-19. The initiative is committed to a long-term understanding of the disease and development of therapies for COVID-19 and future coronavirus threats in addition to urgent efforts to repurpose existing therapies as potential immediate response. The CARE consortium will accelerate COVID-19 R&D by bringing together the leading expertise and projects of 37 teams from academic and non-profit research institutions and pharmaceutical companies into a comprehensive drug discovery engine.

Complete news release here.