The University of Southampton

Astronomer expands understanding of supermassive black holes in Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship

Published: 4 July 2018
Dr Francesco Shankar will continue his exploration into the origins of supermassive black holes through a new Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship

University of Southampton astronomer Francesco Shankar will explore the close links between supermassive black holes and their host galaxies through a new Leverhulme Trust Research Fellowship.

He will probe diverse galaxies’ evolutionary patterns in the two-year project that builds on observational findings published by the Associate Professor in 2016.

Francesco will construct his model on cutting-edge semi-empirical techniques as he attempts to unpick a “puzzling correlation” surrounding the physics of black holes.

“Supermassive black holes, up to billion times the mass of the Sun, appear to be ubiquitous at the centre of all galaxies, yet little is known about their origin,” he explains. “My recent findings seem to suggest that the faster the stars in the host galaxy are moving, the bigger the supermassive black hole will become.

“In this proposal, I have put forward cutting-edge, observationally-oriented modelling to dissect the origin of such a puzzling correlation. This in turn will support our understanding of black hole evolution and their contribution to the cosmic gravitational wave background.”

Semi-empirical models (SEMs) are a powerful complementary and distinct tool compared to traditional approaches and are characterised in astronomy as having a ‘bottom-up’ approach. Scientists introduce as few assumptions and associated parameters as possible initially, before gradually adding additional degrees of complexity.

Francesco, a prominent member of Southampton’s Astronomy Group, will work with students in parallel to his fellowship to develop 3D visualisations of galaxies based on observations and model expectations.

“I am extremely thrilled that I will now have the necessary time to build upon my very promising results on the characteristics of supermassive black holes,” he adds. “Our engaging visualisation will allow viewers to fly at a speed faster than light through the universe, showing how galaxies are distributed in the sky and what their evolutionary patterns may have been.”

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