SUVI GEZARI STOCK ’95

“Maret was a wonderful environment to learn science and the humanities. My first exposure to physics was at Maret and was critical in giving me the confidence to become a physics major at Brown. The wonderful array of courses available at Maret, was very similar to the many choices available in the open curriculum at Brown, and definitely prepared me for the more advanced specialty courses.”

When most of us look up at a clear, beautiful night sky, we see the stars and the moon, but Suvi Gezari Stock ’95 is trained to see something more. With a Ph.D. in astronomy, Suvi has spent the past seven years searching for black holes caught in the act of ripping apart and consuming a star.

Suvi’s path to a career in science began early with her love of math and science classes at Maret. After graduation, she went to Brown University and decided to become a math and physics major. However, Suvi reflects, “it was my first exposure to astronomy research during a summer NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates program at the Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket that got me hooked on becoming a professional research scientist. Astronomy research was appealing to me because it involved technical and mathematical skills, and addressed big questions about the nature of the universe and its contents.”

After graduating from Brown with honors, Suvi moved out west to pursue her love of the stars at UCLA where she completed her master’s in astronomy. Suvi was not destined to stay in California long term, and after finishing her studies at UCLA, she moved back east to work on her Ph.D. in astronomy at Columbia University. She did circle back to Caltech, however, as a Voluntariat International Postdoctoral Fellow. Suvi returned to Baltimore as a Hubble Fellow at Johns Hopkins and has remained in the area since.

Suvi is now an assistant professor at University of Maryland continuing her research on black holes and the consumption of stars. She enthusiastically explains, “Such an event is exciting, because detailed observations of the flare of radiation that results from the black hole consuming the star can be used to weigh black holes in distant galaxies, which are otherwise undetectable. An unlucky star only rarely passes close enough to a black hole to be torn apart by its gravitational forces, thus we must monitor hundreds of thousands of galaxies to be lucky enough to catch one of these events.”

Suvi leads the team that uses the ultraviolet NASA space telescope, GALEX, to detect these rare occurrences in space. It takes several years of surveying the sky to discover the black holes interacting with the stars in this remarkable way. Suvi has been fortunate enough to discover four events so far, the most recent one reported in the May 2012 issue of Nature magazine.
 
The nature of Suvi’s work takes patience and confidence. She attributes her skills in these areas to many classes and teachers at Maret. Suvi acknowledges, “Maret was a wonderful environment to learn science and the humanities. My first exposure to physics was at Maret, and was critical in giving me the confidence to become a physics major at Brown. The wonderful array of courses available at Maret was very similar to the many choices available in the open curriculum at Brown, and definitely prepared me for the more advanced specialty courses.”

With the vast universe before her, Suvi will continue to search the depths of the sky, making discoveries along the way that were, at one time, only found in dreams.

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