Vici grant for Sera Markoff

16 February 2016

Dr Sera Markoff, Associate Professor at the UvA Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy, and a member of the GRAPPA Center of Excellence, was awarded a prestigious Vici grant. Markoff receives the grant for her project entitled ‘From micro- to megascales: understanding how black holes shape the local universe’.

This is primarily a theoretical project, focusing on the very important role black holes play in 'recycling' material and subsequently energising their surroundings. Although black holes are famous for sucking up everything in their paths, including light, in reality they manage to convert captured material into other forms with an efficiency that can be orders of magnitude larger than nuclear fusion. 

Jets

The most dramatic outputs are immense streams of magnetised plasma moving at near light speed, called jets. Jets from a supermassive black hole like the one in the centre of our Galaxy (luckily not currently 'active') can dump the energy equivalent of 100 billion supernovae into their environment, heating the surrounding gas to the point where it cannot collapse to form stars and effectively halting future galaxy growth. The myriad small, stellar-remnant black holes in every galaxy also enact a 'micro' version of this feedback, locally affecting star formation. At the moment there is no predictive theory for how this fundamental process occurs. At the same time several new observatories are just about to come online, that will deliver incredibly precise data from thousands of newly discovered black holes, and even make images of (some of) their Event Horizons.

A picture from the X-ray satellites Chandra (NASA) and XMM-Newton (ESA) showing the hot gas trapped in a cluster of galaxies

credits: NASA

Image: combined X-ray image from NASA/ESA satellites Chandra and XMM-Newton showing the hot gas trapped within a cluster of galaxies.The image is almost a million light years across, the bright central spot is a galaxy, buried inside is a supermassive black hole that has launched immense jets 100s of millions of times larger than itself, which have inflated symmetric 'bubbles' on either side.  Each bubble is many times larger than our Galaxy, and older sets of bubbles show that this process has been driving pressure waves and even weak shocks for millions of years, disrupting and heating the gas on massive scales. Markoff and collaborators seek to understand this process.  

Research team

Sera Markoff will use the Vici grant to build a research group of three PhD students and two postdocs to tackle this problem. They will use existing HPC facilities as well as building a local compute cluster to develop models that can be tested against the new, precision observations across the electromagnetic spectrum. There are strong links to astroparticle physics, because Markoff and group will test also against signals from particles like high-energy cosmic rays and now even gravitational waves from merging compact objects. 

Finally Markoff has a project that will focus on science outreach in the Indishe Buurt in Amsterdam, as well as a number of refugee centres.  

Five UvA/AMC Vici grants

Within the University of Amsterdam and the AMC five researchers have been awarded a Vici grant. In total 32 top researchers in the Netherlands have received this grant of 1.5 million Euros as part of the NWOs 'Talent Scheme' programme.

Published by  Faculty of Science