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Moon Lectureship Guest Speaker:
Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan

Dr. Priyamvada NatarajanA native of Delhi, India, Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan is a professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics and director of the Franke Program in Science and Humanities at Yale University. She is noted for her work in mapping dark matter and dark energy, particularly with her work in gravitational lensing and in models describing the assembly and accretion histories of supermassive black holes.

In additional to her academic position at Yale, Natarajan is an associate at the Dark Cosmology Center in the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board at the Petters Research Institute in Belize. She previously completed a Guggenheim Fellowship at the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in New York, served as a visiting professor at Harvard University and spent a year as the Caroline Herschel Distinguished Visitor at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md. In 2012, she was elected to an Honorary Professorship for Life at the University of Delhi in India.       

A prolific researcher, Natarajan has received research grant funding from NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Theoretical and Computational Astrophysics Network, among many others. She has authored or co-authored more than 135 papers published in scientific journals, and has presented her research at scientific conferences all over the world. In 2016, she published her first book, “Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos,” which received an Honorable Mention Award from the American Publishers Association.

Also a popular speaker, Natarajan has lectured throughout the U.S., Europe, Asia and Australia. In 2017, she delivered the Kameshwar Wali Lecture at Syracuse University and a Smithsonian Lecture in Washington, D.C. She has also provided expert interviews to worldwide media, including NPR, CNN, Hindustan Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post.

Throughout her career, Natarajan has received numerous honors and awards, including being named a Kavli Frontiers Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, American Physical Society and the Edge Foundation in Zug, Switzerland. She has also received a Face of the Future Award from the India Abroad Foundation, an India Empire NRI Award from the India Empire Foundation and a Subrahmanyan Aharati Award for Achievement in the Sciences from the Vanavil Cultural Foundation in India.

The Research

Dr. Priyamvada Natarajan is a theoretical astrophysicist interested in cosmology, gravitational lensing and black hole physics. Her research involves mapping the detailed distribution of dark matter in the universe exploiting the bending of light en-route to us from distant galaxies. In particular, she has focused on making dark matter maps of clusters of galaxies, the largest known repositories of dark matter. Gravitational lensing by clusters can also be utilized to constrain dark energy models, and she has been developing the methodology and techniques to do so. Her work has demonstrated that cluster-strong lensing offers a unique and potentially powerful laboratory to test evolving dark energy models.

Natarajan is also actively engaged in deriving and understanding the mass assembly history of black holes over cosmic time, and she is exploring a new channel for the formation of the first black holes. In earlier work, she argued for the existence of an upper limit to black hole masses in the universe by showing that black holes eventually stunt their own growth. This self-regulation implies the presence of ultra-massive black holes with capped masses in the centers of nearby galaxies that have since been observationally detected.

Also invested in the public dissemination of science, Natarajan is on the Advisory Board of NOVA ScienceNow and is actively engaged in developing strategies to enhance numerical and scientific literacy for the public at large.