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Nia Imara      

Astrophysicist, Artist & Activist

Dr. Nia Imara is an astrophysicist, artist, and leader in education from Oakland, California. The first black woman to earn her PhD in astrophysics from UC Berkeley, Imara subsequently spent several years at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where she conducted a research program on the formation of stars in the Milky Way and throughout the Universe. Currently a professor of astronomy at UC Santa Cruz, she has given numerous public talks and has appeared in astronomy documentaries that aired on PBS and Netflix. Imara is deeply committed to gender and racial equity in science and, in 2018, founded the Equity and Inclusion Journal Club at Harvard. In 2020, Imara founded Onaketa, a nonprofit organization that provides free STEM tutoring, scholarships, and other educational resources for black and brown children. Imara is also a professional artist and has given numerous public presentations on the intersection of science and art at schools, universities, and museums around the county and internationally. She is usually asked to speak about astronomy, art and culture, the intersection of art and science, and/or social justice in science and education. Her astrophysics about the birth of stars and her artwork have been featured in magazines including Quanta Magazine, Newsweek, Psychology Today, and forthcoming issues of National Geographic and Scientific American.

Imara has been invited to speak at universities across the country including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, UC Berkeley, NYU, The Ohio State University, Pomona College, and University of Arizona. She has been a featured speaker at national and international conferences. In January 2020, she was a plenary speaker at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, the largest gathering of astronomers in the world. Imara is known for being an engaging, excellent storyteller who communicates equally well with academics and non-experts. She has given public presentations at museums, planetariums, libraries, and other venues.

Speech Topics

A Star is Born

The birth of stars is one of the most complex problems challenging modern astrophysics. Understanding their origins is of fundamental importance to many areas of astronomy, from exoplanet studies to cosmology. While the study of the initial conditions of star formation in molecular clouds has accelerated during the past couple of decades, at the same time, new data and discoveries have exposed new mysteries regarding the birth of stars. In this talk, Dr. Imara will outline the current state of our understanding of stellar nurseries and present some innovative approaches toward advancing our knowledge of these environments in the Milky Way Galaxy and beyond. With an eye toward the future, she will highlight some breakthroughs that have been achieved—as well as those we would like to achieve—in our journey to unravel the mysteries of star birth.

Interconnected: A Journey Through Inner and Outer Space

How do art and science intersect? As an astronomer and visual artist, it’s a question I’m often asked. My astronomy research aims to illuminate how stars are born in vast “stellar nurseries” residing in our Milky Way Galaxy and beyond. My art is steeped in black culture and centers on people. How do the two go together? In this talk, I will invite the audience on a journey through inner and outer space and share some of what inspires me as an artist-scientist. In doing so, we will explore some potential connections between art and science and how culture plays a major role in both of these uniquely human endeavors.

We Love the Light: A Visual, Lyrical Celebration of the Cosmos

In We Love the Light, artist and astrophysicist Nia Imara leads us on a dynamic, lyrical, light-filled exploration of the universe. Through art and music, she tells a story of how we live on a small, rocky planet orbiting an ordinary star, which is just one of billions of stars flying around in the Milky Way—which, in turn, is one of countless galaxies in the universe. We Love the Light is a story about how our relationship to the cosmos and to one another can be understood from the unique vantage point at the crossroads of art and science. It is a story of how light is fundamental to life.

Long before the invention of telescopes, our ancestors could look up into the sky to contemplate the patterns and mysteries of the cosmos. From rainbows, to eclipses of the sun, to stars in distant galaxies, light makes it possible for us to explore and understand nature. Today, astronomers use cutting-edge technology to take pictures of the universe—planets, exploding stars, galaxies...and even black holes—pictures that allow us to see nature in entirely new ways. Artists, meanwhile, use light and color to communicate emotion and deeper metaphors about the mystery of life. Filled with stunning images and music, We Love the Light is a celebration of the cosmos, Black culture, and the power of art to bring people together.

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