Demystifying the Mystery: Queensborough Physics Professor Addresses ‘Ripples In Space-Time’

Published: January 16, 2018

A century ago, Einstein predicted gravitational waves on the basis of his general theory of relativity. During the past two years, using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), scientists began detecting these ripples in space-time, and even several merging black holes and a gamma ray burst caused by merging neutron stars. This was the topic of the lecture Gravitational Waves: Ripples in Space-Time, presented by Dr. Jillian Bellovary, Assistant Professor of Physics at Queensborough Community College. The public lecture took place at the Westport Astronomical Society in Weston, Connecticut, on January 16.

“Learning about space through gravitational waves has led to the surprising discovery of massive black holes,” said Dr. Jillian Bellovary, who is also a Resident Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History.

At Queensborough, Dr. Bellovary’s students learn about these scientific concepts and other matters related to astronomy by watching and listening to her online lectures in preparation for class, which focus on engagement through group work and demonstrations. “I want their takeaway to be that science is a window into learning more about the world by using evidence and making observations.”

Using evidence and making observations was applied at the recent Undergraduate Research Day event at Queensborough. Student Rayhan Shakib used coding and graphing for his scientific poster, Black Holes in Simulated Dwarf Galaxies. He explained that, “We graphed the density of stars, gas and dark matter starting from the center of the galaxy and working its way outwards. Since most dwarf galaxies with black holes have cored density profiles, this may explain why the black holes are not in the centers of their host galaxies.”

Dr. Bellovary believes in mentoring students who express a strong interest in science.  “I tell my students that there are career opportunities in astronomy, but that marketable skills like computer programming are essential in order to analyze data, explore, and create graphs.”

This past fall, she brought student Michelle Luzuriaga to the Conference of the American Astronomical Society (CAAS) in Washington, D.C. In the spring, Michelle will conduct undergraduate research under the guidance of Dr. Bellovary in preparation for a paid summer research program in reading computer programming.

In February, Dr. Bellovary and her students will honor Black History Month by celebrating examples of prominent African American astronomers, both past and present. “It is important that we strive for equity in the sciences because minorities, women and those with disabilities are not well represented. We will be better scientists if we have more people in the field. It is especially important to emphasize this at Queensborough, one of the most diverse colleges in the country.”

“Science is a circular process of testing new theories. We still don’t know how the universe works and we are constantly going back to the drawing board. That’s what makes our discoveries so thrilling.”

Dr. Jillian Bellovary serves on the Committee on the Status of Minorities and Astronomers. She obtained a Bachelor of Science in Astrophysics, Physics and Philosophy, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Doctorate in Astronomy from the University of Washington.

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