How Stars Die And Black Holes Form: Your Universe Today Podcasts
January 23, 2013

How Stars Die And Black Holes Form With Guest Dr. Kelly Holley-Bockelmann (Part 1): Your Universe Today Podcasts

John P. Millis, Ph.D. for — Your Universe Online

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Black holes are among the most exotic, mysterious and perplexing objects in the Universe. They are swallowers of light, destroyers of stars and the engines that drive our galaxies. Some believe they could even hold the key to interstellar travel and may perhaps even provide a means to travel in time to catch a glimpse of the distant future.

In this episode of Your Universe Today, I spoke with Professor Kelly Holley-Bockelmann, a theoretical physicist in the field of N-body systems and black hole dynamics at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Holley-Bockelmann talks about what sets black holes apart from other objects in the universe and explains how the laws of space, time and gravity bend and even break down to create the most destructive force in the cosmos.

But to even begin to understand them — what they are and what they are capable of — we first must understand how they form. What physical processes are responsible for creating these cosmic monsters? And, more to the point, how can they even exist at all given what we know about the laws of physics?

We´ll also tackle questions about how stars die, the fate of our solar system and what would really happen if a tiny black hole were created inside a particle accelerator like the one outside of Geneva, Switzerland. And, of course, keep an eye out for parts two and three in this series when we grapple with the notion of black holes billions of times the mass of our Sun and attempt to answer the question “What would happen if you fell into a black hole?” Stay tuned.

Listen to parts two and three of the interview, "Facts About Black Holes — Separating Myth From Reality" and "Supermassive Black Holes."


Kelly Holley-Bockelmann has been an Assistant Professor of Astronomy at Vanderbilt University since 2007. She received her B.S. in Physics at Montana State University and her PhD in Astronomy in 1999 at the University of Michigan. After her PhD, she did postdoctoral work at Case Western Reserve University and the University of Massachusetts. In 2004, she joined the Center for Gravitational Wave Physics at The Pennsylvania State University, where she became a big fan of gravitational waves and attended many talks on loop quantum gravity that left her scratching her head.

Her main interests are in computational galaxy dynamics, black holes of all sorts, and gravitational waves. She is a recipient of a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation and her work also been supported by the NASA. Dr. Holley-Bockelmann's research on growing supermassive black holes and rogue black holes have both been featured in many online and print media outlets, though she still gets a bit nervous talking to the press.

As a first-generation college graduate within a family that sometimes lived below the poverty level, Dr. Holley-Bockelmann has a deep interest in broadening the participation of women, minorities, and first-generation college students in science. She is a part of the Fisk-to-Vanderbilt Master's-to-PhD Bridge Program, which is designed to mentor a diverse cohort of graduate students to develop the skills needed to succeed as a scientist.