Laura Driessen wins Dutch thesis prize for Astronomy

27 November 2017

For the second time in a row, an UVA master student has won the yearly Thesis Prize of the KHMW, the Royal Dutch Society for the Sciences. Laura Driessen discovered a new supernova remnant her research, using the LOFAR radio telescope in Drenthe.

Our Milky Way contains many fascinating objects, such as pulsars, pulsar wind nebulae and supernova remnants. Supernova remnants are bright bubbles of matter, which are the remains of exploding massive stars. These explosions can also produce pulsars: swiftly rotating neutron stars, that radiate particles in a pulsar wind.


For her research, Laura utilized the LOFAR radio interferometer, the big radio telescope in Drenthe, to map one particular nebula, G54.1+03. She showed that this nebula is much like the well-known Crab nebula, and is even more special than assumed until now. Contrary to earlier belief, the nebula appeared not to be surrounded by a supernova remnant.  Also, Laura showed that several objects previously thought to be supernova remnants, are in fact not. On top of that, she discovered a new, relatively new supernova remnant, G53.41+0.03. This new object can teach us more about supernova physics, especially for supernovae with central pulsars. More research on this is on the way.

The crab nebula and its pulsar

The Crab nebula and the Crab pulsar are remains of a supernova. The oblong shape of colored gas is caused by the outer layers of the parent star having been flung out by the explosion. The pulsar, crushed from the core of the old star, is exactly in the middle and is a bright radio source.


This project shows how mysterious the Milky Way is, and how much we do not know yet, says Laura. ‘Also, this kind of research advances the technology used. Astronomical questions require advanced techniques and new methods of data reduction. Everybody benefits from this.’

The former Master student was supervised by Jason Hessels and Jacco Vink. She worked on her project with much enthusiasm. She sees her prize as a bonus on a magnificent experience of studying at the UVA and as an acknowledgement of the masters’ research of young scientists.


The De Zeeuw-Van Dischoeck Fund finances this prize of 3.000 euros to stimulate young Astronomy researchers. The prize was awarded on November 27 after careful consideration by the Royal Dutch Society for the Sciences, KHMW, which awards several science prizes each year.


Published by  Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy