Priyamvada Natarajan

Though imperfect, science offers the best path we have to making sense of our wondrous universe.

Yale Astrophysicist | Author of Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos

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Priyamvada Natarajan | Yale Astrophysicist | Author of Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos
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Priyamvada Natarajan is a charismatic astrophysicist from Yale who takes audiences on a tour of the most stunning breakthroughs of recent cosmology. Her specialty? Dark matter, black holes, and nothing short of the most enigmatic questions of existence. In talks, she also explores the human face of STEM—and how greater gender and cultural diversity are vital for both the sciences, and society.

A cosmologist and theoretical astrophysicist, Priyamvada Natarajan is Professor in the Departments of Astronomy and Physics at Yale University. She is the author of the book Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos: a lively history of the ground-breaking ideas and discoveries transforming our understanding of the universe. The book is a “greatest hits” of cosmology over the past century that Brian Greene says “captures well humanity’s passionate drive to discover” and that Lawrence Krauss calls “Novel and absorbing ... Readers of Mapping the Heavens will thus get a very good sense of how far cosmology has come, and how often observations have confronted prevailing wisdom.”

 

Mapping the Heavens gives a highly readable, insider’s view of recent discoveries in astronomy with unusual attention to the instruments used and the human drama of the scientists.”

— Alan Lightman, author of The Accidental Universe and Einstein’s Dream

Natarajan researches gravitational lensing and black holes, mapping the distribution of dark matter in the universe. She currently holds the Sophie and Tycho Brahe Professorship of the Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute, at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She is a fellow of the American Physical Society and Chair of its Division of Astrophysics, and a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Explorers Club. On the Advisory Board of NOVA ScienceNow, Natarajan is actively engaged in public outreach and in developing strategies to enhance numerical and scientific literacy. In addition to publishing in scientific journals such as Science and Nature, she has written for publications like The Washington Post and Discover, and her work has been featured in publications including Science News, New Scientist, and The New York Review of Books.

 

She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship, and a fellowship at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. The former chair of the Womens Faculty Forum at Yale, Natarajan is deeply interested in institutional change with regard to gender parity in the Academy. She has co-organized two Gruber conferences, “Parity as Practice: The Politics of Equality” and “Contesting Gender Inequalities” and is on the Board of the Swiss Edge Certified Foundation, which works toward gender equality in the workplace.

Speech Topics

Science
Mapping the Universe Astronomy as a People's Science

As our knowledge of the universe expands, so does our sense of wonder. The sky belongs to all of us, says Yale astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan—astronomy is the people’s science. 

 

In this awe-inspiring keynote, Natarajan introduces audiences to dark matter, the enigmatic, invisible substance that makes up nearly a third of space. But above all, you’ll learn that what we don’t know is as important as what we know. Science is provisional—ever-evolving and open to innovation. And when we question conventional wisdom, push boundaries, and dare to know the unknowable, the sky’s the limit.

Diversity & Race
STEM Equality Why We Need Diversity in Science, Now

Young girls and people of color are discouraged from pursuing scientific careers at a very early age. Why? Today, we must confront the conscious and unconscious biases at the heart of the STEM fields—and this means addressing gender parity and discrimination in both the school, and the lab.

 

In this keynote, Natarajan explores the world of gender and cultural parity across multiple spheres—the public, personal, university, domestic, and cultural—and investigates the many initiatives undertaken to level the playing field by colleges, governments, and corporations. Far from purely a numbers game, she explains, gender equity is a wider cultural problem (a human issue, not merely a ‘women’s issue’). As such, we need to address the subtle cultural and field-specific biases that prevent greater equity—and, as Natarajan argues, be good scientists: open to new ideas, and willing to re-examine our most cherished beliefs.

 
Diversity & Race
Outsider Views Perspectives on Belonging in STEM and Wider Culture

Priyamvada Natarajan is a Yale astronomer and past Guggenheim fellow—an insider, if you will, who has won wide acclaim from various institutions. But she’s also a woman—and an Indian woman—in a field dominated by (mostly white) men. This duality gives Natarajan a curious sense of belonging. What does it mean to be both an insider and outsider, in both the STEM fields and wider culture? How does one feel comfortable, at home, or in spheres that aren’t yet ready for a porous border? This keynote is a moving look at a life lived beyond easy classifications—for those who need to listen, and for those yearning to belong.