Anna-Christina Eilers

Assistant Professor of Physics
Observational cosmologist aiming to understand the formation and growth of supermassive black holes.

Research Interests

Professor Anna-Christina Eilers is an observational cosmologist leading the Cosmic Dawn Group ( at the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Her research focuses on the formation of the first galaxies, quasars and supermassive black holes in the early universe, during an era known as the Cosmic Dawn. In particular, Eilers is interested in the growth of the first supermassive black holes which reside in the center of luminous, distant galaxies known as quasars, to understand how black holes evolve from small stellar remnants to billion solar mass black holes within very short amounts of cosmic time. The question of how black holes accrete sufficient matter from their surrounding accretion disk and grow very rapidly has been an open puzzle for decades and challenges the current understanding of supermassive black hole growth and accretion physics.

In her research, Eilers develops new methods to study the timescales of quasar activity and supermassive black hole growth phases. She aims to understand how galaxies and their central supermassive black holes evolve through cosmic time, how the accretion physics might change in the early universe, and what the nature of the seeds of these early black holes could be.

She uses a combination of multi-wavelength observations from telescopes around the world and in space; cosmological simulations; and new machine learning models. She is heavily involved in multiple programs using NASA’s newly launched James Webb Space Telescope, which is piercing deeper than ever before into the distant past of our universe. Eilers is also passionate about making science more accessible through public outreach.

Biographical Sketch

Anna-Christina Eilers is originally from San Francisco, California, but grew up in Germany. She received a Bachelor’s degree in Physics from the University of Goettingen with a focus on neuroscience. After an internship at the European Space Agency in The Netherlands she decided to study astrophysics at the University of Heidelberg, where she obtained her Master’s degree and completed her PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg. During her thesis she worked with Prof. Joe Hennawi and Prof. Hans-Walter Rix on both high-redshift quasars and the early growth phases of supermassive black holes, as well as on data-driven models of stars within our own Galaxy, the Milky Way. In 2019 she was awarded a NASA Hubble Fellowship and the Pappalardo Fellowship to continue her research at MIT. In July 2023 she will join MIT’s Physics faculty as an assistant professor.

Awards & Honors

  • 2023 // Otto Haxel Prize for Physics, University of Göttingen, Heidelberg, Karlsruhe
  • 2020 // Otto Hahn Medal, Max Planck Society
  • 2020 // IAU PhD Prize, International Astronomical Union
  • 2020 // Doctoral Thesis Award, German Astronomical Society
  • 2020 // KlarText Prize, Klaus Tschira Foundation, Prize for Science Communication
  • 2019 // NASA Hubble Fellowship
  • 2019 // MIT Pappalardo Fellowship
  • 2016 // PhD Fellowship, German National Academic Foundation

Key Publications

  • A.-C. Eilers, F. B. Davies, J. F. Hennawi, Z. Lukic, J. X. Prochaska, C. Mazzucchelli (2017), “Implications of z~6 Quasar Proximity Zones for the Epoch of Reionization and Quasar Lifetimes”, Astrophysical Journal, 840, 24

  • A.-C. Eilers, D. W. Hogg, H.-W. Rix, M. Ness (2019), “The Circular Velocity Curve of the Milky Way from 5 to 25 kpc”, Astrophysical Journal, 871, 120

  • A.-C. Eilers, D. W. Hogg, B. Schoelkopf, D. Foreman-Mackey, F. B. Daves, J.-T. Schindler (2022), “A Generative Model for Quasar Spectra”, Astrophysical Journal, 938, 17