Not your parents' M dwarfs: What low-mass stars can tell us about magnetic fields, Galactic dynamics, the distribution of dust and the widest binaries in the Milky Way

M and (early-type) L dwarfs are the smallest, coolest and least massive stars in the Galaxy. Yet despite their diminutive physical properties, low-mass stars make up ~70% of all of the stars in the Milky Way and have main sequence lifetimes that exceed trillions of years. Their dominance in the Galaxy make M dwarfs excellent tracers of both the structure and evolution of the local Milky Way. In addition, low-mass dwarfs have intense stellar flares and strong magnetic fields that allow us to probe their interiors and may have important consequences for the habitability of planets that orbit them. I will present results from the largest samples of low-mass stars ever assembled. The advent of large surveys such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) has yielded photometric and spectroscopic catalogs of more than 100 million and 70,000 stars, respectively. Specifically, I will highlight work that has used the unprecedented statistical power of the SDSS to examine the structure and kinematics of low-mass dwarfs in the Milky Way, as well as the nature of their magnetic fields (and subsequent activity) and what this may tell us about the ages of stars. In addition, I will share some resent results from a survey that cataloged some of the widest binaries in the Milky Way and demonstrate how a large sample of M dwarfs has helped us map the three-dimensional distribution of dust in the local Galaxy.