Astronomer Jason Hessels of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (ASTRON) and the University of Amsterdam has been awarded a ‘Vidi' grant of 800,000 Euros from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). With this grant, Hessels will build a research team that will turn the LOFAR radio telescope into the world's premier high-speed radio camera.

Published by the editorial team, 22 May 2013

Looking up on a starry night, it's easy to imagine that the Universe is unchanging. In reality, however, the Universe is teeming with activity: there are massive explosions from accreting black holes, bright radio flashes from ultra-magnetic pulsars, and likely other spectacles that have so far escaped our prying eyes. These fleeting events can happen faster than the blink of an eye and, importantly, they trace the most extreme astrophysical phenomena. Catching these rare performances poses a major challenge for observational astronomers, but the scientific payoff is well worth the effort.

Hessels and his new team will mould the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR) telescope into ‘DRAGNET', the world's premier high-speed, wide-angle camera for radio astronomy. Radio waves are a unique and powerful way of investigating the most extreme astrophysical processes. Also, LOFAR is a unique radio telescope, which provides the exciting opportunity to monitor the heavens for rare, powerful explosions as never before possible. With his Vidi grant Hessels will search the sky for new pulsars (rapidly spinning, super-magnetic neutron stars) and will try to detect radio signals from the Universe's most extreme explosions: supernovae and gamma-ray bursts. Compared with previous radio telescopes, LOFAR can view a much larger fraction of the sky at once, which is critical for catching these rare events in the act.

Also Alessandro Patruno, researcher at the University of Amsterdam and affiliated to ASTRON, was granted a Vidi on the related subject of neutron stars. He will use the Vidi at Leiden university to set up a research team.

 

The central core of the LOFAR radio telescope array along with an artist's conception of how the telescope views the sky through a large field of view.

For more information please contact:

Femke Boekhorst, PR & communication. + 31 521 595 204, boekhorst@astron.nl
Jason Hessels, astronomer. +31 521 595 100, hessels@astron.nl

About the Vidi grant:

Vidi is one of the three finance forms of the socalled ‘Vernieuwingsimpuls' of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). The other two are Veni's (for newly promoted researchers) and Vici (for very experienced researchers). The goal of these grants is to stimulate innovation in scientific research. The grants have been set up in cooperation with the ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OC&W), the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) and the Dutch universities.

Vidi's are awarded to excellent researchers who, after having been promoted, have already conducted a few years of successful research. The scientists belong to the best ten to twenty percent in their field. With a Vidi they can do research for five years.

NWO selects the Vidi-laureates on the basis of the quality of the researchers, the innovative character of the research, the expected scientific impact of the research proposal and the possibilities for valorization. More information is available on www.nwo.nl.

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