Dec. 05, 2011

Black Hole Research

by Coastal Studies for Girls

Click to enlarge images

By Kagan, Coastal Studies for Girls

This graph shows how a traditional black hole and neutron star bend spacetime.

Last Wednesday our guest speaker was Helen White, an undergraduate student at Bowdoin College here in Maine. She is a physics and astronomy student that some of us met when we all attended the Science Symposium at Bowdoin a few weeks ago. Helen works on a research experiment about black holes, and she has been working on this project for about six months. After seeing a bit of her presentation at Bowdoin, we were all really intrigued by her research and wanted to learn more.

Graciously, Helen agreed to come visit us as CSG on Wednesday, our night of the week reserved for guest lecturers. After dinner, we eagerly gathered in the dining hall for her talk. Helen led an in-depth presentation about her work and research on black holes and neutron stars, and answered all of our crazy questions extremely intelligently.

She talked about her construction of a model of one type of black hole with a neutron star orbiting around it and she compared it to a similar set up with a different kind of black hole. She explained that neutron stars are stars whose atoms are so condensed that they form one giant, super dense star that essentially just has one nucleus. They are commonly found rotating around black holes, and Helen was working to create computer models showing a black hole neighboring a neutron star. Her model showed how much of an impact a black hole makes on the fabric of space, and we all found it astounding to see how much a black hole literally bends the space-time fabric. She explained how much she liked writing the computer code that creates her theoretical black holes, despite the tedious process of the whole thing.

One of the graphs Helen White discussed, showing how the two black holes are different.

In accordance with our wonder at the anatomy of a black hole, we asked multiple theoretical questions about one's fate should they encounter a black hole. After learning about the extreme gravitational pull and density of a black hole that would make an encounter with a black hole extremely fast and painful, we came to the conclusion that we are not, in fact, dying inside of a black hole as we speak.

After Helen's presentation, she talked to us about her journey as a woman in science. She'd attended a girls boarding school throughout her high school years and told us that she hadn't expect to end up studying physics. Throughout her talk with us, she was extremely open, friendly, and easy to relate to. Her story made it really easy for each of us to gain confidence in growing and succeeding as fellow women scientists.

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Coastal Studies for Girls is the country’s only residential science and leadership semester school for 10th grade girls. CSG is dedicated to girls who have a love for learning and discovery, an adventurous spirit, and a desire to challenge themselves.

About Coastal Studies for Girls

Coastal Studies for Girls is the country’s only residential science and leadership semester school for 10th grade girls.

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