Holley-Bockelmann will receive $1.1 million over five years
Kelly Holley-Bockelmann, assistant professor of physics and astronomy, has been awarded the National Science Foundation’s largest-ever Faculty Early Career Development grant in the field of astronomy. She will use the award to continue her studies of black holes while supporting Vanderbilt’s innovative program designed to make the university the top producer of underrepresented minorities with Ph.D.s in physics and astronomy.
Due to the availability of Recovery Act funds, Holley-Bockelmann will receive $1.1 million over five years. CAREER awards are considered NSF’s most prestigious honor for junior faculty members.
Holley-Bockelmann plans to address one of the fundamental mysteries that surrounds supermassive black holes, exotic objects weighing in at millions to billions of solar masses which astronomers have found lurking at the core of most galaxies, including the Milky Way.
Understanding how supermassive black holes form is important because they have played a major role in the evolution of the universe. Specifically, they appear to have had a major impact on the development of galaxies in ways such as affecting the rate at which they produce new stars.
Holley-Bockelmann also will use part of her grant to support the Fisk-Vanderbilt Master’s-to-Ph.D. Bridge Program, a partnership with historically black Fisk University designed to encourage underrepresented minorities and women to pursue careers in physics and other sciences. She is following in the footsteps of Vanderbilt Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Keivan Stassun, who received a CAREER Award in 2004 and used it to start the Bridge program.
“As a first-generation college student and a woman astronomer, it’s important for me to help students realize that they can be a scientist no matter where they come from or what they look like, as long as they love science enough to put in the hard work,” Holley-Bockelmann said.
Holley-Bockelmann, who is an adjunct professor at Fisk, will hire two Bridge graduates to assist in her black hole studies. Her grant is also providing “time release” for a Fisk instructor to finish up his doctoral degree. In addition, she is hiring a post-doctoral fellow to assist in her black hole studies and a graduate student to serve as a computational guru for the Bridge program.