Intergalactic Wanderers: Erin Wells Bonning (A97) featured in Science News
Erin Wells Bonning (A97), along with her University of Texas at Austin colleague Greg Shields, recently gained the attention of Science News with a paper that may contribute greatly to our understanding of what is termed “supermassive” black holes. The astronomical community now believes that most, if not all galaxies contain these giant phenomena. How these are formed, however, and their connection with the creation of the galaxies themselves, is still a topic of intense debate and research.
Scientists believe that when galaxies combine, their two central black holes sink to the center, orbiting each other until they eventually merge. Computer simulations, says Bonning, suggest that these pairs “are giving off gravitational radiation, ripples in space-time propagating away from the binary black hole. It’s something that’s predicted in Einstein’s theory, and there are experiments going on right now attempting to detect this phenomenon.”
Astronomy was always an interest for Bonning, a self-described “little geek girl [who] read all about black holes and relativity and quantum mechanics, and it was just the coolest stuff I’d ever heard of.” While she devoured “anything and everything” in the space and physics section of the library, her supportive parents nurtured her interest in science, giving her a small telescope, a microscope, and a chemistry set. “One of my fondest childhood memories is of the day when my dad and I played hooky (me from second grade) to go visit the Air and Space Museum in D.C.,” she says. “For the longest time, I thought it was the ‘Erin Space Museum’ because obviously it was built for me!”