I am an observational extragalactic astronomer with broad research interests in the field of galaxy evolution. As a galaxy+AGN enthusiast, I am interested to investigate how galaxies, the basic building block of the universe, have evolved since the beginning of time. Since supermassive black holes in the center of massive galaxies seem to play an important role in their hosts' lives, the detailed interface between them and mergers of massive black holes are as much a driving force of galaxy evolution as they are of my research.
2020-Present: Assistant Research Astronomer, UC Irvine
2018-2020: Assistant Project Scientist, UC Irvine
2017-2018: Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Irvine
2015-2017: University of California Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow, UC Riverside/Irvine
2012-2014: Thirty Meter Telescope Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Riverside
Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2012
M.S., Astronomy, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2008
B.S., Astrophysics, California Institute of Technology, 2006
Department of Physics and Astronomy
4129 Frederick Reines Hall
University of California
Irvine, CA 92697
vivianu [at] uci [dot] edu
Office: FRH 2154
My research interests involve understanding the coevolution of supermassive black holes (SMBHs) and galaxies within the realm of observational extragalactic astronomy, from detailed gas dynamics around SMBHs at the sub-parsec scales to their connection with their hosts at the galactic scales.
What happens when galaxies merge?
I co-lead the Keck OSIRIS AO LIRG Analysis within the larger Great Observatories All-sky LIRGs Survey collaboration to study gas dynamics in the inner 1kpc region of nearby (U)LIRGs in a systematic way. I am the PI of a NASA Astrophysics Data Analysis Program project (FY2020-2022) that aims to provide a multiwavelength baseline for understanding the nature of obscured accreting supermassive black holes in high spatial resolution observations.
How does AGN influence its immediate vicinity?
I am the science lead of the latest campaign of the Lick AGN Monitoring Project, using the technique of reverberation mapping to probe the broad line region gas dynamics in nearby Seyfert galaxies.
James Webb Space Telescope
As a member of the inaugural JWST Master Class, I led the organizing of our UCI JWST Proposal Training Workshop in February 2020 to help prepare our local Southern California astronomy community for submitting Cycle 1 proposals. Sharing our expertise as one of the Early Release Science teams, I am looking forward to great science to be done with this NASA flagship.
Since 2019, I have been a penpal to a middle schooler through the Letters to a Pre-Scientist Program where we exchanged hand-written letters four times over the course of the academic year. Targeting low-income middle schools, this program connects STEM professionals to students who love (or hate) sciences, some of whom might otherwise not have considered continuing education beyond high school. For me, not only was this an opportunity to personally connect with young kids and spread the joy of working in a STEM field, but it gave me an excuse to practice handwriting and use my cool stamps on actual letters!
Giving public lectures challenges us to really understand our research both at the fundamental level and in the context of relevant press releases to be able to explain it to the taxpayers how astronomers are pushing the frontier of knowledge as a whole. This summer, I was honored to have been invited to give talks at both the Riverside Astronomical Society as well as the Lick Observatory Summer Series' Music of the Spheres and to engage the public at a personal level. My Lick talk has been posted here:
It was a blast volunteering at the UCI Eclipse Viewing Party on campus serving a huge crowd of 1000+ from within the community. All the activities from telescope viewing to science demos and kids craft station were immensely popular. It was also a great opportunity just to enhance public interests in science in general.
Serving on the UCI Women in Physics and Astronomy executive committee, the UCI departmental Committee on Inclusive Excellence, and the UCI Advisory Council on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion, I advocate for the inclusion and equal opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities (URM), particularly victims of harassment, in physics and astronomy. Changes to improving the field's climate for women and URM start with raising awareness and should be followed by actionable items, which include communication of specific issues and application of the corresponding remedies on the part of those in power.
As a TMT affiliate, I participated in the Journey through the Universe (JTTU) event that took place in Hilo, Hawaii in early March, 2015. It was the annual astronomy outreach event jointly hosted by the 'Imiloa Astronomy Center and all the other observatories. As part of the eventful week, I held a family-centered discussion with a public talk on Colliding Galaxies, and went into a high school classroom as an astronomy ambassador to talk about optics and planets.
In December 2014, I gave a public talk at UC Riverside to ~60 people on how merging galaxies give rise to supermassive black holes. Questions about black holes from the audience are almost always as fun as giving the talk itself! This series of public talks as given by faculty and postdocs (sometimes in Spanish) seeks to educate the public about the breadth of astronomy.
As the astronomy outreach program at UCR takes off, I have had to chance to participate in several activities, including eclipse viewing (only do so under safe conditions!) and folding origami stars with high school female students.
When I was a graduate student at the IfA, our outreach committee was very involved in spreading astronomy throughout the island, including the annual IfA Open House, stargazing, and starlab. As a city, Honolulu suffered sufficient light pollution that the starlab shows we presented with our portable planetarium at various schools remained the best option for children to learn about the night sky.
Here is a list of folks that I have had the luck to supervise on various galaxy/AGN projects:
07/2020 - Present: Beijing Normal University Grad (co-advising with Prof. Zong-Hong Zhu)
06/2020 - Present: UCI Undergrad
06/2020 - Present: Caltech Undergrad (co-advising with Dr. George Privon)
12/2019 - Present: Orange County School of the Arts High school student
06/2019 - 11/2019: Orange County School of the Arts High school student and Regeneron Top 300 Scholar (now Woodrow Wilson Undergrad Research Fellow at Johns Hopkins University)