Erin Kara

Class of 1958 Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics
An observational astrophysicist, working to understand the physics behind how black holes grow and affect their environments.

Research Interests

Professor Kara is an observational astrophysicist, working to understand the physics behind how black holes grow and affect their environments. She has advanced a new technique called X-ray reverberation mapping, which allows astronomers to map the gas falling on to black holes and measure the effects of strongly curved spacetime close to the event horizon. She also works on variety of transient phenomena, such as tidal disruption events and Galactic black hole outbursts. She is a NASA Participating Scientist for XRISM Observatory, a joint JAXA / NASA X-ray spectroscopy mission, and co-chairs the supermassive black hole working group.

Biographical Sketch

Erin Kara is the Class of 1958 Career Development Assistant Professor of Physics. She is an observational astrophysicist, working to understand the physics behind how black holes grow and affect their environments. She also works to develop new and future space missions. She co-chairs the supermassive black hole working group of the XRISM Observatory, a joint JAXA / NASA X-ray spectroscopy mission to launch in 2023, and is the Deputy Principle Investigator of the AXIS Probe Mission Concept.

Erin is originally from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and attended Barnard College of Columbia University, where she obtained a B.A. in physics with a minor in art history. After graduating in 2011, she moved to the United Kingdom on a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to study for a Masters and a PhD from the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge. In 2015, she was awarded a NASA Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow, which she took to the University of Maryland and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. In 2018, she became the Neil Gehrels Prize Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Maryland, and joined the faculty of MIT as an Assistant Professor of Physics in July 2019. Recently, the American Astronomical Society awarded her the 2022 Newton Lacy Pierce Prize for ‘outstanding achievement, over the past five years, in observational astronomical research’.

More info:

Awards & Honors

  • 2022 // Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy (AAS) for her “innovative and sustained contributions to high-energy astrophysics.”
  • 2019 // NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, "for outstanding and groundbreaking contributions to the scientific understanding of the geometry around stellar mass black holes"

Key Publications

  • E. Kara, J. F Steiner, A. C. Fabian, et al., “The corona contracts in a black-hole transient”, Nature 565, 198 (2019)

  • J. Wang, E. Kara, M. Lucchini, et al., “The NICER “Reverberation Machine”: A Systematic Study of Time Lags in Black Hole X-Ray Binaries” The Astrophysical Journal (2022)

  • J. Chakraborty, E. Kara, M. Masterson et al., “Possible X-Ray Quasi-periodic Eruptions in a Tidal Disruption Event Candidate”, The Astrophysical Journal L40 (2021)