Clarion Shines Light on Black Hole Expert Ford

The Clarion, the magazine of CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress, featured doctoral faculty astronomer Kathleen E. Saavik Ford (Assoc. Prof., BMCC, Physics) in its March 2012 issue. Ford, who also works as a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, discussed the research she conducts with her husband Barry McKernan, also of BMCC and the doctoral faculty, on supermassive black holes—of which they have analyzed 245.

“Black holes are collapsed stars whose gravitational pull is so strong that not even light can escape,” Ford explains, and “supermassive black holes . . . probably result from the glomming together of many small black holes.” Thus, studying black holes can enhance the understanding of gravity. She and McKernan have been using the model for planet-forming disks around young stars to examine accretion disks that feed matter to black holes. “My former field of study was strongly related to planets and planet formation,” she says. “You could say this synthesis is in part the result of our romantic and scientific marriage.” Currently they are developing instruments for the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in six years and orbit a point nearly a million miles from Earth, which will allow astronomers to see the feeding structures next to black holes.

Ford likes teaching at CUNY—“you feel like you are helping people who really need it and aren’t going to get it anywhere else”—and believes in knowledge for its own sake. “It’s good to wander, to be curious and able to explore,” Ford says. “Everything we do doesn’t have to be quantifiable down to the last penny. The value of studying English will someday help you write the memo the boss wants, but that’s not what English is for.”

Read the full interview, by John Tarleton, at

Submitted on: MAR 7, 2012

Category: Faculty Activities | Physics