Awarded 2 million euro to investigate the magnets on the cosmic fridge

Chalmers astronomer Wouter Vlemmings has received a grant worth 2 million euro (17 MSEK) from the European Research Council. For Wouter this means new possibilities in exploring how magnetic fields in space can reveal how stars are born – and how they die.
The European Research Council (ERC) have awarded a Consolidator grant worth 2 million euro to astronomer Wouter Vlemmings.

Stars are a passion for Wouter Vlemmings.

– My research is about the role magnetic fields play in how stars are born, and how they die. I study the very cold places in space where new stars are formed, and the beautiful, symmetric nebulae that are created when sun-like stars die.

Astronomers have long known about magnetic fields in space. But with today’s newest and most powerful telescopes, like Alma in the Chilean Atacama desert, we can for the first time measure in detail how magnetic fields affect the most important and most exciting stages in the lives of stars.

– By studying other stars I want to understand the history and fate of the Sun, of our solar system, and of life itself. Without magnetic fields life on Earth would be impossible; and with today’s best radio telescopes we can now find out about the ways magnetic fields affect stellar birth and death, he says.

Stars are born and die in cold regions of space where cosmic dust blocks the view for ordinary telescopes  To study them, astronomers observe signals with wavelengths between one millimeter and a few centimeters. Magnetic fields have only a tiny effect on the light from these stars, so highly sensitive telescopes and specialised observing techniques are necessary. Today’s newest telescopes, like Alma and Lofar, and future projects like the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) are opening up new possibilities for scientists like Wouter Vlemmings.
Legend, picture to the right: Our galaxy’s best refrigerator. Wouter Vlemmings has studied the Boomerang nebula, at only one degree above absolute zero the coldest known place in space. (Credit: Bill Saxton; NRAO/AUI/NSF; NASA/Hubble; Raghvendra Sahai)
– As humans we are made of atoms that were created in stars and have been spread through space by stellar winds. Investigating how that happened – and what will happen to the sun in the future – is not just exciting for me. I think it’s also important for all of us, he says.

This year’s ERC Consolidator Grants are the first of their kind. Of 3673 submitted proposals, only 312 were accepted, among them ten scientists at Swedish universities. The grants are aimed to strengthen established scientists who have recently started their own research groups in their leadership roles. The scientists who have been awarded Consolidator Grants are considered to have the potential to be world leaders in their fields.

More information:
Swedish Research Council
European Research Council press release
Wouter Vlemmings at TEDxGöteborg (November 2012)

Text: Robert Cumming
Portrait Wouter Vlemmings. Photo: Robert Cumming

Page manager Published: Wed 22 Jan 2014.