Understanding the Past, Present, and Future of Nature’s most Exotic Objects

Novel data-driven ideas and STEM learning and engagement

Dr. Vicky Kalogera, of Northwestern University, is an astrophysicist who hopes to understand the formation and evolution of exotic compact objects, like black holes and neutron stars. By using the laws of physics to build computational models, she is able to show what happened in the past and furthermore to describe why the universe is the way it is today. It is her firm belief that the best way to predict our future is by thoughtfully understanding our past; thus, through her study of some of the most powerful events in the universe, she is making sense of our universe’s past, present, and future. Such research is likely to lead to powerful applications that are currently unforeseeable but can benefit the global community; Dr. Kalogera’s computational and applied math research can lead to technology development that can benefit other data-intensive fields of science and engineering as well as big-data industry. Dr. Kalogera’s passion for innovative solutions and her efforts to reach novel understandings of our universe inspires her work in bringing this excitement to STEM K-12 education: she works on offering professional development to school teachers and engaging school students in STEM education and research.

Dr. Kalogera focuses on the area of compact objects, remnants of stellar lives once stars run out of nuclear fuel, which includes black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs. In studying these objects, Dr. Kalogera hopes to discover their origins and thus, their evolutionary history and future. Because understanding cosmic mysteries is a core driver of human curiosity, Dr. Kalogera also uses her passion for astronomy to inspire the public and children to engage in the sciences, understand the scientific method, and learn the value of asking questions. Especially in her role as founding co-director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics, Dr. Kalogera is able to apply a multidisciplinary approach to broad research questions that engage the interest of multiple people. Her dedication to not only her academic research but also the building of STEM education has given her to opportunities to reach out to the public and talk about the range of activities that ignite other’s passions.

Current research includes:

  • Detecting Gravitational Waves: Dr. Kalogera is a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration which is pursuing the first direct detection of gravitational waves as predicted by Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. This research will represent one of the top breakthroughs in physics for the 21st century and will open a new window of exploration in science and technology.

  • X-ray Binaries: Black holes and neutron stars are known to exist in nature based on indirect evidence produced by X-ray sources. Dr. Kalogera is pursuing a long-term program that focuses on each x-ray binary that harbors a black hole to develop highly sophisticated models for their evolutionary history and future.

  • Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST): The top national priority for astronomy studies with ground-based telescopes is the development of the unique LSST. Northwestern is an institutional member of the non-profit LSST Corporation and Dr. Kalogera serves on its board. When completed LSST will produce the most comprehensive movie of the Universe, breaking big-data records and affecting all areas of astronomy, especially time-domain astronomy.

  • Predicting Supernova Progenitors: Dr. Kalogera is working to predict the properties of supernova progenitors, exploding stars forming black holes and neutron stars once they self-destroy. Current observational results indicate that the role of binary evolution is crucial in shaping supernova progenitors, but no models have been developed, even though observational astronomers point to their necessity. Given her group’s experience, Dr. Kalogera hopes to develop these models and produce key predictions for LSST.

Bio

Dr. Kalogera always enjoyed solving problems. Even in elementary school, math and science attracted her attention, interest, and eventually her passion because of the opportunity to solve problems and look for unique or unexpected solutions. Because no one in her family had been to college, as a high school student, Dr. Kalogera did not realize that the opportunity to conduct research was a profession she could pursue. While a freshman in college however, astronomy professors exposed her to the world of academia where she found that she could be both an educator and a learner. The thrill of being able to spend her life solving puzzles encouraged Dr. Kalogera to continue her studies, leave her home country of Greece, and complete a Ph.D. in Astronomy. Through her development as a researcher she has won numerous honors and awards, including named one of the Top 10 Rising Stars in Astronomy selected by Astronomy Magazine (August 2008) and featured in Sky & Telescope Magazine, Special Edition Issue: “Astronomy's 60 Greatest Mysteries” (Summer 2013). Dr. Kalogera continues to be inspired by the ability to explore the cosmos, advance computational and big-data technology, and engage young students in science, technology, and math, contributing to one of the most important priorities for our country.

In her free time, aside from research, Dr. Kalogera enjoys reading non-fiction, watching movies, and keeping up with the latest fashions. True to her European roots, she often listens to Baroque music and attends performances with her family complete with four children and a husband who is also an academic.

Website: http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/vicky/

Awards

Simons Foundation Fellow in Theoretical Physics, 2012

Fellow of the American Physical Society, 2009

Selected as one of Astronomy Magazine's "Top 10 Rising Stars of Astronomy”, 2008

Award for Excellence in Mentoring Undergraduate Research, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Northwestern University, 2008

David and Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship in Science and Engineering , 2002