Physicist to Study How Black Holes Are Driving Evolution of Galaxies

April 11, 2018

Understanding how galaxies have formed since the Big Bang is one of the frontiers of modern astrophysics, says Claude-André Faucher-Giguѐre, physics and astronomy.

“For the past two decades, we have known that each galaxy has at its center a supermassive black hole, with a mass ranging from 106 to 1010 solar masses,” says Faucher-Giguѐre, a member of Northwestern’s Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA). “When the black hole accretes gas from its surroundings, the in-falling matter heats up and emits energetic radiation.”

A black hole gobbling matter can outshine all the stars in its host galaxy. The galaxy is then observed as an active galactic nucleus (AGN). Because of the enormous energy output during black hole feeding, AGN are believed to play a decisive role in driving the evolution of galaxies.

“Indeed,” Faucher-Giguѐre says. “How AGN affect the evolution of galaxies is arguably the biggest open question in galaxy evolution.”

To better understand this phenomenon, Faucher-Giguѐre has received a Cottrell Scholar Award from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement. The funding will support graduate students who will lead studies of the physics of galaxy-scale outflows of energy driven by accreting supermassive black holes.

“This work will take advantage of new and unique simulation tools that we have recently developed,” he says. “These include algorithms for black hole feedback in simulations of realistic galaxies with a multiphase interstellar medium, and with a comprehensive chemistry solver, necessary to model molecular outflows. Our simulations will range from ultra-high resolution simulations designed to understand key small-scale physics to fully cosmological galaxy formation simulations.”