C. Megan Urry

Yale University

Election Year: 2016
Primary Section: 12, Astronomy
Secondary Section: 13, Physics
Membership Type: Member


Astrophysicist Meg Urry is known for her work on active galaxies, which host accreting supermassive black holes in their centers. She used experiment and theory to explain “blazars,” an unusual class of active galaxy, as relativistically beamed jets oriented along the line of sight. She carried out deep multi-wavelength surveys to quantify the growth of black holes over cosmic time and to search for signs of feedback with the host galaxy. Urry grew up in Indiana and Boston, majored in Physics and Math at Tufts University, and got her PhD in Physics from the Johns Hopkins University. Before becoming the Israel Munson Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Yale University and Director of the Yale Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, she was a senior astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which runs the Hubble Space Telescope for NASA. Professor Urry is known for her efforts to increase the number of women in the physical sciences and writes regularly on science for CNN.com.
She has served as President of the American Astronomical Society and 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 American Women in Science.

Research Interests

Meg Urry’s research centers on the structure of active galaxies, the growth of the supermassive black holes that power them, and the interplay of black hole growth with the evolution of its host galaxy. She studied the multi-wavelength variability of blazars, interpreting it in terms of particle acceleration and cooling in the blazar jets. One puzzle was the large number of known blazars relative to their most likely parent population, radio galaxies; she showed in a theoretical work that relativistic beaming strongly alters observed luminosity functions, and in a series of papers, quantitatively linked each of the two main blazar classes to the appropriate type of (unbeamed) radio galaxy. Urry and her collaborators used the multi-wavelength structures of extended jets to characterize their emission mechanisms. She surveyed the host galaxies of blazars, showing they were identical to galaxies without visible activity, supporting the idea that black hole growth is an episodic part of the evolution of every galaxy. Urry used X-ray plus infrared surveys to identify heavily obscured black holes, and showed that fully ¾ of rapidly growing black holes would be missed by normal optical selection. Most recently, she used morphological studies to show that only the most luminous active galaxies are triggered by violent mergers, and that most galaxies evolve slowly and secularly.

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