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Unveiling interstellar and intergalactic magnetic fields with radio polarimetry and theoretical astrophysics

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Magnetic Universe (Unveiling interstellar and intergalactic magnetic fields with radio polarimetry and theoretical astrophysics)

Reporting period: 2017-01-16 to 2019-01-15

Magnetic fields are amazing. Their invisible presence can be illuminated by the classic school experiment to sprinkle iron filings over a bar magnet or a current carrying wire. They make your compass point north, protect the Earth and your smartphone from harmful radiation from space, and can even be used to levitate frogs. But more impressively, they connect everything in the Universe: from the smallest atomic scales, to the massive sizes of stars like our own Sun, and far beyond out into the immense depths of interstellar space (between the billions of stars that make up an individual galaxy, like our own Milky Way) and intergalactic space (between an infinite number of galaxies scattered throughout the Universe).

As an astrophysicist, my research involved using the world’s most powerful radio telescopes to study how light from distant galaxies has been subtly affected by the presence of magnetic fields along the line of sight. This has enabled me to study magnetic fields in the interstellar environment within our Milky Way Galaxy, and in the intergalactic medium in the depths of space beyond our Milky Way. My research involves data analytics, statistics, and theoretical physics to analyse and interpret findings, and to open new knowledge to humanity regarding the Universe we inhabit. Our understanding of interstellar magnetic fields still remains very limited, while there are practically no robust observational probes of intergalactic magnetism available. My research has sought to address these limitations. By seeking an understanding of how magnetic fields were generated and how they evolved in enormous structures like galaxies and beyond, we can better understand the evolution and possibly even the early formation of the Universe, connecting from the earliest time at the Big Bang across 13.7 billion years until today and the rich cosmic environment around us.
My research involved the preparation and undertaking of large observing campaigns using radio telescopes, and subsequent calibration and analysis of the resulting data. My work has led to new insights into the manner in which magnetic fields wind about and are tangled throughout the interstellar medium of our Milky Way Galaxy. My research has also led to the preparation of a new ultra-sensitive radio map from which I will perform the most sensitive and robust search ever for intergalactic magnetic fields.

Public outreach: I participated in numberous public outreach activities including European Researchers Nights, local University and community forums, and delivering a public lecture at the Royal Astronomical Society in London which was recorded as in available online. I also assisted in the creation and delivery of a 1.5 week long educational program for 10 year olds from disadvantaged and special educational backgrounds, in collaboration with the charity Hand Of.
My research has yielded a new technique for unveiling properties of interstellar magnetic fields, and in turn led to a new understanding of interstellar magnetism and how field are tangled throughout the Milky Way. My research has also yielded a dataset that will soon provide the most sensitive and robust constraints on the as-yet unknown properties of intergalactic magnetic fields.
Ultra-sensitive radio astronomy observations for the CHILES Con Pol project