Quasars and Black Holes
UNLV astrophysicist Daniel Proga recently received a $500,000 grant from NASA to use supercomputers to provide insights into the problem of quasars and how other supermassive black hole systems work and how they affect their environments. Proga came to UNLV in 2005. His research interests are in understanding the physics of matter and radiation near supermassive black holes.
Where are you from?
Born and raised in Brzeziny, Poland, a 650-year-old town in central Poland.
I went to college at Nicolaus Copernicus University, which is named after the famous Polish astronomer and mathematician. After receiving my master’s degree, I went to Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, spending three years as a pre-doctoral fellow working on my Ph.D. project. I then received my Ph.D. from Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre in Warsaw, Poland.
One of the reasons I came here is because I had a good impression of the university, especially its potential and its friendly and supportive department of physics.
Interestingly, I first heard of UNLV from my officemate back when I was at Harvard. I remember him being very excited about getting a job offer from UNLV as a postdoctoral scholar. That was a long time ago and he is now a professor at another university.
When I was in high school, there were several different professions I wanted to be when I grew up. I always liked sports, rockets and airplanes, travel, math, physics, chemistry, history, music, nature, etc. So it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do. Astronomy gave me a chance to do many things that I like.
Generally, astronomy is very inter-disciplinary. It benefits and contributes to many other fields. These include philosophy, art and beauty of nature, story telling, advanced technology and engineering, traveling, and meeting people.
Has it been what you expected?
It actually has been much better than I expected or what one can read in a book or newspaper.
What has surprised you about the field?
The most surprising thing about astronomy is that one has to be quite aware of astro-sociology.
The grant is for $500,000 to support a three-year project. I plan to hire a postdoctoral scholar and support graduate and undergraduate students to work on numerical simulations of mass outflows from active galactic nuclei. My research proposal was titled, “Computational Studies of Radiation-MHD Disk Winds.” This means we will be using supercomputers to solve the radiation-magneto-hydrodynamical equations that describe the geometry, physics, and time evolution of winds that are launched from accretion disks.
Your research interests
I am interested in understanding the physics of matter and radiation near supermassive black holes. We have good reason to believe that all galaxies have a supermassive black hole at the center. The Milky Way is a good example. However, not all galactic centers (or nuclei) are active. However, some galaxies have very active nuclei—the most spectacular examples are quasars. Quasars can be a thousand times brighter than their host galaxies. My research is focused on understanding when and how a super massive black hole produces energy and how this energy changes the properties on the matter around black holes.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy most being able to learn about new things and discovering how they are, sometimes very surprisingly, connected.
Outside of work
On a typical “lazy” day, I would watch a comedy or detective drama. I enjoy good company, good food, and wine/beer. I also like walking or hiking with my family.