Mapping the Heavens: Introducing New Speaker Priyamvada Natarajan
Astronomy is the people’s science, says Priyamvada Natarajan—the sky belongs to everyone. A theoretical physicist based out of Yale University, Natarajan studies the mysteries of the cosmos that are revealing themselves to us day by day: invisible dark matter, which takes up nearly one-third of space; pervasive dark energy, accelerating our universe’s expansion; and supermassive black holes, some millions of times the mass of our sun. In stirring keynotes, she demystifies cosmological wonders while laying out a new blueprint for STEM fields—one that addresses gender and cultural parity in schools, labs, and wider cultural spaces.
Natarajan’s book, Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas that Reveal the Cosmos, illustrates just how transient our understanding of the universe is—that what we know changes as phenomena are discovered and breakthroughs made. In Mapping the Heavens, Natarajan breathes new life into these historic turning points, as well as the curious characters that sparked them. Prominent string theorist Brian Greene says that the book “captures well humanity’s passionate drive to discover,” and Publishers Weekly, in a starred review, asserts that Natarajan “adds a lively human touch to her discussion, reinforcing the dynamism of a field that ‘fans human curiosity and is driven by it as well.’”
At Yale, where she is a professor in the departments of astronomy and physics, Natarajan’s research centers on gravitational lensing and black holes. But perhaps chief among her passions is the distribution of dark matter across the universe, which she’s currently mapping using light bent by distant objects. But as important to her as science is how the public perceives it. She strives to make science accessible, and to show non-scientists its relevance to their everyday lives. If we emphasize logical, critical thinking, Natarjan argues, and boil science down from the abstract to the concrete, mass scientific literacy is well within our grasp.
For her work, Natarajan has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Radcliffe Fellowship, and a fellowship at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, and holds the Sophie and Tycho Brahe Professorship of Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute, at the University of Copenhagen. She is a fellow of the American Physical Society and Chair of its Division of Astrophysics, a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Explorers Club, and sits on the Advisory Board of NOVA ScienceNow. Her work has appeared in scientific journals such as Science and Nature, and in major publications including The Washington Post, Science News and Discover. She also writes regularly for The New York Review of Books.
To Natarajan, what we don’t know is as important as what we know. And when we ignite in people a love of science, we’re one step closer to bridging the gap between the two.