Turkish woman astrophysicist starts important project for NASA

Feryal Ozel

A Turkish astrophysicist professor has begun work on a new US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) project to create a powerful space telescope.

Professor Feryal Ozel, the only Turkish woman scientist at NASA, is already managing a project for an event horizon telescope that aims to monitor a black hole.

“I’m overseeing a big project for NASA. The project is a space telescope which could come online in the 2020s. Meanwhile, the Event Horizon Telescope project that will monitor a black hole is about to finish. The calculations for the projects are finished. We will start to monitor it in April. We will start a monitoring process that will take 10 days with telescopes placed all around the world in April. This is a very exciting period,” she said.

Ozel, who teaches at Harvard University and the University of Arizona, specialises in black holes.

“I focus on the event horizons of black holes, which can absorb matter and even light. On one hand, I have been making calculations to understand whether black holes are really as we have understood and hypothesised them to be and, on the other, to prepare for the Event Horizon Telescope’s observations and understand whether or not there are any changes in the laws of physics in the vicinity of black holes,” Ozel said.

In 2003, Ozel was named in a list of “Big Ideas” alongside scientific luminaries like Albert Einstein and John Nash.

Ozel, who knew that she wanted to be a scientist when she was 10 years old, graduated from Uskudar American High School before continuing her studies at Columbia University in a double major in mathematical and physical engineering. She has been conducting research at NASA since 2002.

The scientist is the only Turkish scientist to receive a PhD at Harvard University and is a member and Hubble Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Ozel has also been a fellow at the Harvard-Radcliffe Institute and a visiting professor at the Miller Institute at the University of California in Berkeley. She has appeared on numerous TV documentaries such as the “Universe” series on the History Channel.