Priyamvada Natarajan

Professor, Departments of Astronomy & Physics/ Director, Franke Program in Science and the Humanities, Yale University

Panel: Unfolding Models

A Hubble Space Telescope image of the cluster of galaxies Abell 2744 taken in 2014. Over-plotted on the image is the reconstructed map of dark matter shown in blue. The presence and spatial distribution of dark matter is inferred from the light bending it produces. Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA, HST Frontier Fields and J. Lotz, M. Mountain, A. Koekemoer, and the HFF Team (STScI). Acknowledgement for overlaid reconstructed dark matter map for Abell2744: Mathilde Jauzac (Durham University, UK and Astrophysics & Cosmology Research Unit, South Africa) and Jean-PaulKneib (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland).

Dark matter comprises the bulk of the matter in the universe, but its true nature remains elusive as it is yet to be directly detected. Using gravitational lensing, the bending of light by matter in the Universe, Professor Primyamvada Natarajan has been creating detailed spatial maps of the dark matter distribution in clusters of galaxies. A developer of the conceptual model that underlies this mapping, she hopes that its granularity will hold new clues to its properties.

Trained in the history and philosophy of science and in physics, Natarajan’s intellectual interests span disciplinary boundaries. She frequently collaborates with artists and writers about science, focusing on the history of radical ideas and their acceptance, a journey that she traces for some of the most influential ideas in cosmology in her book, Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos. For “Unfolding Models,” Natarajan will discuss her work on epistemic challenges in scientific disciplines wherein controlled experiments are not possible, the role of simulations as proxies for experiments and inference from conceptual models and complex data. 

Biography: Yale University
Social: Twitter

Symposium Schedule

Panel: Unfolding Models
Video Release: Friday, April 2, 2021 / 9:00am EST

Live Q&A: Monday, April 5, 2021 / 5:00–6:00pm EST

Related Works

Black Hole Astrophysics and Gravitational Lensing


List of seminal papers by Primyamvada Natarajan.

Mapping the Heavens


A tour of the “greatest hits” of cosmological discoveries—the ideas that reshaped our universe over the past century.

Lunatik (VR)

2019, Polity Press

A collaboration with Antony Gormley, the virtual reality experience uses data collected by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to map a real and interactive journey, leaving Earth hurtling through the atmosphere, stratosphere, the asteroid belt, and into outer space.