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Black holes, galaxies and the Nobel Prize

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Talk Abstract

Roger Penrose postulated the existence of black holes as a consequence of General Relativity they and they were first discovered in X-ray emitting binary stars. From the end of the 1960s black holes were hypothesised to be the driving energy source for active galactic nuclei but their important role in galaxy evolution has only recently been appreciated. The talk will present this story leading up to the first image of the shadow of a supermassive black hole in M87 and the unequivocal detection a black hole at the centre of the Milky Way for which the 2020 Nobel Prize was awarded. I will close by asking – why did this take so long?


Speaker Information

Professor Roger Davies is the first holder of Philip Wetton Chair in Astrophysics and a Student of Christ Church College, University of Cambridge. His research interests centre on cosmology and how galaxies form and evolve. He has a longstanding interest in astronomical instruments and telescopes. Since 2014 he has been the founding Director of the Oxford Hintze Centre for Astrophysical Surveys.

Professor Roger Davies grew up in Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire and attended John Leggott School. He read Physics as an undergraduate at UCL and did a PhD at the Institute of Astronomy and Churchill College, Cambridge. Following that he moved to the United States working at the Kitt Peak National Observatory in Tucson, AZ, now part of NSF ’s NOIR Lab. He became part of the Seven Samurai collaboration which surveyed the distances and velocities of galaxies, discovering the `Great Attractor’, a concentration of galaxy clusters pulling the Milky Way in the direction of the constellations of Hydra and Centaurus.

He moved to Oxford in 1988 to lead the team set up to build a UK 8m telescope that ultimately resulted in their membership of the Gemini Observatory. Since then he has been project scientist for a number of instruments. He became Head of Astronomy at Durham University in 1994, returning to Oxford to the Wetton Chair in 2002. He has pioneered the use of a new class of astronomical spectrograph to measure the masses and ages of galaxies, as well as search for black holes in their nuclei.

He was Head of the Physics Department at Oxford from 2005-10 and Head of Astrophysics from 2011-14. He is a Fellow of UCL and hold an honorary degree from University Claude Bernard in Lyon, France. He was President of the Royal Astronomical Society between 2010 and 2012, and has been President of the European Astronomical Society since 2017. He was elected to the AURA Board of Directors in 2021.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Astronomical Society (CUAS) series.

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