Tracing the Origin of the First Black Holes

  • Speaker
  • Priya Natarajan, Ph.D.Professor, Departments of Astronomy and Physics;
    Director, The Franke Program in Science & the Humanities;
    Chair, Division of Astrophysics, American Physical Society, Yale University
Date & Time


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Mathematics and Physical Sciences lectures are open to the public and are held at the Gerald D. Fischbach Auditorium at the Simons Foundation headquarters in New York City. Tea is served prior to each lecture.

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Black holes appear to be ubiquitous throughout the universe. Most, if not all, galaxies appear to host a supermassive black hole at their core. However, the origin of the very first black holes, known as seed black holes, remains uncertain. Observations reveal that bright quasars powered by accreting black holes existed back when the universe was young. The existence of these objects so early in the universe’s history necessitates rapid growth from initial seed black holes.

In this lecture, Priyamvada Natarajan will present her work on a new origin for massive black hole seeds in the early universe. These direct collapse black holes formed in pristine pre-galactic gas disks. She will present the mounting evidence from multi-wavelength data supporting this picture as well as the prospects for further testing this model with data from future space missions such as the James Webb Space Telescope, WFIRST, eROSITA and the Euclid spacecraft.

About the Speaker

Natarajan is a professor at Yale University with appointments in the departments of astronomy and physics. She serves as the director of the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities. She chairs the Division of Astrophysics of the American Physical Society. Her research work focuses on confronting theoretical models and state-of-the-art simulations with observational data in understanding the formation, fueling and feedback of black holes. Her work tracks the assembly history of black holes over cosmic time and maps dark matter from gravitational lensing to test the standard paradigm for structure formation. She is the recipient of many awards and honors for her research, including a Title A fellowship at Trinity College Cambridge as well as Guggenheim, Radcliffe, Paco Ynudrian and Caroline Herschel fellowships. She also holds the Tycho and Sophie Brahe Visiting Professorship at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen and an honorary professorship for life at the University of Delhi.

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