BB.20.005 – GLIMPSE: Gaining Leverage on Interstellar Magnetism, and Promoting STEM Education

Route: Building blocks of matter and fundaments of space and time

Cluster question: 131 How are galaxies, stars, and planets born and how do they evolve?

The formation of stars is a fundamental question in the study of galaxies. Stars are born out of interstellar clouds of gas and dust, and return much of their matter to those interstellar clouds towards the end of their lives. In this star formation cycle, magnetic fields play a pivotal role: in interstellar gas, magnetic fields and not gravity shape the gas dynamics and energy budget. Hence, knowing the magnetic field in the interstellar medium is essential for understanding the cycle of star formation.
Traditionally, interstellar magnetic fields in the diffuse interstellar gas have been studied using radio polarimetry methods, which are unfortunately limited to line-of-sight averaged measurements. We will pioneer the use of all-sky optical starlight polarization surveys to characterize this magnetic field with 3D data. To this end, we use an advanced polarimeter which is one of the most sensitive widefield optical polarimeters in the world. The detailed and accurate magnetic field model that we aim to achieve will constitute a scientific breakthrough, not only for the Galactic science community, but also for e.g. cosmology or cosmic-ray experiments that need subtraction of this field’s influence from their data.
In addition to the execution and scientific interpretation of this all-sky survey, the project starts with the building or refurbishment of a 1m class optical telescope to mount our polarimeter on.
In addition to the scientific breakthrough, we aim to set up a comprehensive program for elementary and high-school students to bring exact science to the class room, introducing scientific methods, data analysis, etc. Special focus will lie on girls and underrepresented minority children and teenagers in STEM. Astronomy is commonly regarded as an ideal stepping stone into science for young people, but also a research field in which underrepresentation of women and minorities is still very present. Our educational program will aim to improve this situation by enhancing and/or nurturing scientific interest in underrepresented groups by offering opportunities to get acquainted with science and science role models.


Galactic magnetism, optical astronomy, STEM education, telescope technology, underrepresented groups


Organisation Radboud University
Name Prof. dr. M. (Marijke) Haverkorn