Chung-Pei Ma was born in Taiwan in 1966. She moved to the U.S. to study physics at university, receiving a bachelor of science and a PhD in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
After MIT, Ma had a postdoctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology then went on to be an associate and assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania. She became a professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley’s Department of Astronomy in 2001.
Ma’s primary research interests are in theoretical cosmology-the evolution and composition of the universe as a system, dealing with statistical predictions and measurements of fundamental properties of the universe-and astrophysics. She has been involved in designing and running large numerical N-body and hydrodynamical codes to simulate and study the nonlinear growth of dark matter and galaxies. She has published on the properties of dark matter and dark energy, the cosmic microwave background, gravitational lensing, galaxy formation and evolution, and the large-scale structure of the universe.
In 2016, Ma was part of a team of astronomers to uncover a supermassive black hole equaling the weight of 17 billion suns. The black hole is located about 200 million light years from Earth and is one of two super-massive black holes Ma has contributed to discovering.
In a PBS interview about the discovery, Ma said, “The black hole is a sleeping giant. … Each one has the mass of about 10 billion times that of the sun. And we can also think about their sizes [in terms of] the region of space within which light cannot even escape. And that size for these black holes are about five times that of our solar system.”
More remarkable about the 2016 discovery was that it was in an unexpected place: in the center of a galaxy in a sparsely populated area of the universe. This challenged the current thinking about how and where black holes could form.
Written by Nicole Hutchison