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Q&A: A Fellowship to Discover Black Holes’ Secrets

NASA illustration of a black hole and the matter it pulls in

October 4, 2016

    Drexel Physics Graduate Student, Rebecca Phillipson     
Rebecca Phillipson

Black holes remain one of the most mysterious and intriguing objects in our universe. One of the newest celestial objects to be studied — they were only first theorized in the 20th century — black holes are areas in space that have such strong gravity that not even light can escape them.

However, there is little known about them. We don’t even have a real picture of one. That knowledge gap is where Rebecca Phillipson comes in. A physics graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences, Phillipson dreams of discovering more about what makes black holes work.

Now, after being awarded the three-year Harriett G. Jenkins Graduate Fellowship by NASA, she’ll have a good shot at it. Through the $165,000 afforded to her by the fellowship, Phillipson will be able to combine the latest simulations with a treasure trove of NASA’s telescopic data to look at black holes at a depth never before achieved.

“I’m impressed by Rebecca’s initiative and imagination,” said Michael Vogeley, PhD, professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and one of Phillipson’s advisors at Drexel, along with Steve McMillan, PhD. “It is rare for a first-year graduate student to have the vision to bring together ideas from computational and observational astrophysics to attack a problem this complex.”

Here, Phillipson explains why black holes’ secrets are so hard to discover — and how she hopes to divine them.

Read more at Drexel's News Blog