Jennifer Schober wins PRIMA grant

Jennifer Schober. Credit: EPFL

Jennifer Schober. Credit: EPFL

Jennifer Schober, a researcher with EPFL’s Laboratory of Astrophysics, has been awarded a PRIMA grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation.

PRIMA grants are awarded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and are “aimed at excellent women researchers who show a high potential for obtaining a professorship”. The grant covers the grantee’s salary and project costs for five year. Those awarded carry out an independent research project with their own team at a Swiss research institution.

This year, the SNSF has awarded PRIMA grants to 19 researchers, each receiving CHF 1.3 million. Among the successful grantees is Jennifer Schober, a researcher with EPFL’s Laboratory of Astrophysics.

"Being awarded a major research grant like PRIMA is an amazing honor and a recognition of my previous work," says Schober. "It gives me the exciting opportunity to establish my own group with which I will explore in depth a mysterious and fascinating realm of the Universe."

Schober’s winning project is titled “Magnetohydrodynamical dynamos: Astrophysical and cosmological applications and observational signatures”.

Project summary

Magnetic fields are observed everywhere in the local Universe: They permeate planets, stars, galaxies, and even galaxy clusters which are the largest known gravitationally bound objects. With most of the ordinary matter being ionized, magnetic fields can influence astrophysical flows, and therefore, for example, affect star formation.

The most established mechanism for building up these strong magnetic fields are magnetohydrodynamical (MHD) dynamos that convert kinetic energy from large-scale flows and turbulence into magnetic energy. Their dynamics are determined by a nonlinear coupled set of partial differential equations which makes modeling extremely challenging. Additionally, the exact astrophysical plasma parameters largely unknown.

Therefore it remains elusive if magnetic fields are only a phenomenon of the present Universe, or if they have played a significant role during its evolution. In fact, the origin of cosmic magnetic fields is considered as one of the greatest mysteries of modern cosmology.

The goal of this PRIMA project is to shed light on the history of cosmic magnetism by applying MHD dynamo theory to different epochs, from the hot dense plasma less than a second after the Big Bang to the time of the formation of galaxies and galaxy clusters a few hundred million years later. A deeper understanding of the evolution of magnetic fields in turbulent plasmas will be gained from numerical simulations that will be performed on the largest supercomputers in Switzerland.

Another major goal of the project is to produce testable predictions for observations. This will be path-breaking for the interpretation of the ultra-deep data that is expected from the new generation of radio telescopes, in particular, from the Square Kilometer Array.