Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2016
Shedding Light on Supermassive Black Holes
Black hole binaries, pairs of interacting black holes, were in the news in 2016 in a big way. The first observation of gravity waves, confirming one of the great predictions of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, was performed by the LIGO detector and reported on February 11, 2016. These gravity waves were generated by two stellar mass black holes merging more than a billion years ago.
But astronomers have not yet observed black hole binaries when galaxies collide and the supermassive black holes (SBHs) at their centers, vastly more massive than the black hole system observed by LIGO, become gravitationally bound and pair up. Despite their immense size and power, SBHs remain among the most mysterious objects in the universe.
These binary – paired – SBHs are “observationally elusive,” notes Tamara Bogdanovic, an assistant professor in the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Physics. So much so, she adds, that astronomers are unsure about the characteristic observational signatures associated with these titanic systems.
Bogdanovic will attempt to develop a new generation of theoretical models to aid in the discovery and observation of binary SBHs. By doing so, she hopes to advance our understanding of how SBHs form and grow, how they interact with gases, stars and other SBHs, and how we can recognize them in different epochs of their lives.
Specifically, Bogdanovic and her associates will be working to develop high-resolution computer models, much of which will be based on existing observational data, to account for the interaction of matter and radiation in vicinity of binary SBHs. According to NASA, understanding “black-hole-powered engines” and “measuring black hole masses and spins” are among the most important goals of contemporary astrophysics.
For the education component of the Cottrell Scholar Award, Bogdanovic says she will implement research-based teaching methods that “put emphasis on active student participation and collaborative learning.” She also plans to develop online resources to enhance the student learning experience.