Anna Frebel

Professor of Physics
Division Head for Astrophysics
Best known for her discoveries and spectroscopic analyses of the oldest, most metal-poor stars in the Milky Way and small dwarf galaxies.

Research Interests

Professor Frebel’s research interests broadly cover observational stellar astrophysics. She is best known for her discoveries and spectroscopic analyses of the oldest, most metal-poor stars in the Milky Way and small dwarf galaxies (“stellar and dwarf galaxy archaeology”) to explore the chemical and physical conditions of the early universe.

Since these stars preserve a “fossil” record of early chemical enrichment events, they provide means to isolate and study clean signatures of individual nucleosynthesis events. This uncovers new knowledge relevant to a broad range of topics ranging from the first stars and first galaxies, the initial mass function, supernova yields and stellar nucleosynthesis, nuclear astrophysics and the r-process, chemical evolution and the formation and assembly of our Galaxy and its dwarf galaxies.

For their research, Prof. Frebel and her group frequently use the 6.5m Magellan telescopes in Chile to obtain high-resolution optical spectroscopy. She also collaborates with theorists to connect her observations to results from large scale cosmological simulations to aide in the interpretation of the data.

Biographical Sketch

Prof. Frebel is an observational astronomer and astrophysicist. She received her PhD from the Australian National University’s Mt. Stromlo Observatory in 2007, and did postdoctoral work as a WJ McDonald Fellow in Austin, TX (2006-2008) and as Clay Fellow at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA), in Cambridge, MA (2009-2012).

Prof. Frebel has received numerous honors and awards including the 2010 Annie Jump Cannon Award (American Astronomical Society), a 2013 CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation, and in 2016 she was named one of ScienceNews Magazine’s “Ten Scientists to Watch”. She was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2018 and to full Professor in 2022.

Prof. Frebel has authored more than 120 papers in various refereed journals, including Nature. She also enjoys communicating science to the public through regular public lectures, magazine articles, interviews as well as her popular science book “Searching for the oldest stars: Ancient Relics from the Early Universe” (Princeton University Press).

Awards & Honors

  • 2023 // Appointed Division Head for Astrophysics (MIT)
  • 2022 // American Physical Society (APS) Fellow "For pioneering contributions to the study of low-metallicity stars, near-field cosmology, and the r-process in astrophysics."
  • 2021 // Elected member (corresponding) of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Germany
  • 2020 // Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin ('20-'21) Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin, Germany
  • 2019 // Earll Murman Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising (MIT)
  • 2018 // Committed to Caring Award (MIT)
  • 2017 // Senior Women in Astronomy Fellowship, ICRAR, Perth, Australia
  • 2016 // ScienceNews Magazine's Ten Scientists To Watchlist
  • 2014 // Appointed Silverman (1968) Family Career Development Professorship (MIT)
  • 2013 // NSF CAREER Award, US National Science Foundation
  • 2011, 2013, and 2015 // Kavli Frontiers of Science Fellow, National Academy of Sciences
  • 2010 // Lise Meitner Lecturer, Göttingen and Innsbruck
  • 2010 // Annie Jump Cannon Award, American Astronomical Society "For her pioneering work in advancing our understanding of the earliest epochs of the Milky Way Galaxy through the study of its oldest stars."
  • 2009 // Ludwig-Biermann Young Astronomer Award, German Astronomical Society
  • 2007 // Charlene Heisler Prize (the best Australian astronomy PhD thesis)

Key Publications

  • “R-process enrichment from a single event in an ancient dwarf galaxy” by Ji, Alexander P.; Frebel, Anna; Chiti, Anirudh; Simon, Joshua D., 2016 Nature, 531, 610

  • “Near-Field Cosmology with Extremely Metal-Poor Stars” by Frebel, Anna; Norris, John E., 2015 Annual Reviews of Astronomy & Astrophysics 53, 631

  • “High-Resolution Spectroscopy of Extremely Metal-Poor Stars in the Least Evolved Galaxies: Ursa Major II and Coma Berenices” by Frebel, Anna; Simon, Joshua D.; Geha, Marla; Willman, Beth, 2010 Astrophysical Journal, 708, 560