Black Holes, Astrophysics and How to Get to Equity in STEM

Monday, November 14, 2016

4:30 pm

Mackenzie Room, 300 Huang Center Map

Sponsored by:
WISE Ventures, Office of the Vice Provost for Graduate Education, and Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity

The Fall 2016 WISE Inspirations Network at Stanford (WINS) program features Meg Urry, the Israel Munson Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. WINS connects women graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and alumnae in science, engineering, and mathematics fields, and their allies and advocates.

Professor Urry's abstract for this talk: From my first summer research experience 40 years ago to observing with the latest space telescopes, I have studied how super-massive black holes power “active galactic nuclei” which can radiate far more light than all the stars in the host galaxy. Most recently, my group charted the growth of supermassive black holes over cosmic time and quantified their role in galaxy evolution. Astrophysics has made incredible advances over the past 40 years. Far less impressive is the slow pace at which physics and other STEM fields enlist talented students who fall outside the dominant white+male group. Although women are 50% of the population and 60% of all college graduates in the US, their participation in physics falls short of 20%; people of color, veterans, first-in-family college students, the disabled, the LGBTIQA* community and other minority groups are also under-represented, and those with intersecting identities even more so. Because the demographics of science varies widely across fields, nations and time, culture—rather than ability or interest—is likely the dominant variable. The preferential exclusion of minority groups means that we are leaving talent on the table, i.e., the STEM enterprise is not as strong as it could be. And we are short-changing our students, who are far more diverse than faculty. Extensive research has made clear why the academy falls short of parity, including implicit bias, insufficient mentoring, shifting criteria for evaluation, lack of role models and harassment. We can’t afford to lose another generation of STEM talent, vanishing like matter into a black hole — we need their energy and new perspectives to lead to innovation and transformative science.

Short Bio: Professor Urry served as Chair of the Physics Department at Yale from 2007 to 2013. She is in her fourth and final year as President of the American Astronomical Society. She received her Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University in 1984 and her B.S. in Physics and Mathematics summa cum laude from Tufts University in 1977. Her scientific research focuses on active galaxies, which host accreting supermassive black holes in their centers. She has published over 260 refereed research articles on supermassive black holes and galaxies and was identified as a “Highly Cited Author” by Thomson Reuters. Prof. Urry is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academies of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Physical Society and Association for Women in Science; received an honorary doctorate from Tufts University; and was awarded the American Astronomical Society’s Annie Jump Cannon and George van Biesbroeck prizes. Prior to moving to Yale in 2001, Prof. Urry was a senior astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which runs the Hubble Space Telescope for NASA. Professor Urry is also known for her efforts to increase the number of women in the physical sciences, for which she won the 2010 Women in Space Science Award from the Adler Planetarium, and she writes regularly on science for

Monday, November 14, 2016
4:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Mackenzie Room, 300 Huang Center Map

Open to all interested Stanford affiliates. Mark your calendar. Advance registration is required at


Conference / Symposium Engineering Women / Gender Careers Science 

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