Meet Priyamvada Natarajan, Indian Yale Professor On Time's Most Influential List

Priyamvada Natarajan is an astrophysicist and a Professor of Astronomy and Professor of Physics at Yale University, Connecticut. She chairs the Astronomy department and is also the Chairperson of the Women Faculty Forum.

Shreya Mariam Vimal
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Priyamvada Natarajan(Photo by Michael S. Helfenbein)

(Photo by Michael S. Helfenbein)

The Times Magazine has released its top 100 most influential people of the year list, and this time around, it includes icons like Alia Bhatt, Dev Patel and Sakshi Malik. But amidst the artists and movie stars who were honoured also lies a pioneering Indian astrophysicist, with whom few would be familiar. Priyamvada Natarajan is a Yale professor and a self-proclaimed map nerd. She also created one of the most defining theories of astrophysics surrounding black holes, which shapes our understanding of the cosmos today. But how did she get here? 


Who Is Priyamvada Natarajan

Priyamvada, who also goes by Priya, was born in Tamil Nadu and raised in Delhi. She earned her undergraduate degree in physics and mathematics from MIT and her graduate degree from Cambridge, where she also received her PhD. She would soon become a professor at Yale, where she would continue to pursue creative research ideas. Priyamvada speculated theories regarding the formation of and feedback from supermassive black holes over cosmic time. Her theory that these black holes at the centre of different galaxies could have formed from the collapsing of gas clouds was proven to be accurate through observation through the James Webb Space Telescope.

In the words of astrophysicist Shep Doeleman who spoke for the Time magazine, "(Priyamvada's) latest research takes us one step closer to understanding our cosmic beginnings." In addition to her black hole theory, she has also conducted research on gravitational lensing, clusters of galaxies and dark matter and has won several accolades such as the Emeline Conland Bigelow Fellowship from Harvard and the Indian Abroad Foundation's 'Face of the Future' award. 

Priyamvada Natarajan is also the author of the critically acclaimed book Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos (2016).

According to Yale News, Priyamvada revealed that she initially thought it was a spam message when the Time's editor emailed her. "I was pretty stunned by it...It sends a message that people working in science can be seen as influential, and that is gratifying." 

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