Profile: Nia Imara

Unknown  Nia Imara is an American astrophysicist and artist. Imara was involved in work that deals with galactic mass, star formation, and detecting exoplanets. Imara was the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley

Early life and education

Imara was born in East Oakland, Oakland, California and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. She attended Kenyon College for her bachelor’s degree, majoring in mathematics and physics.  She moved to the University of California, Berkeley for her postgraduate studies, and in 2010 she became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in astrophysics at University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation was on The Formation and Evolution of Giant Molecular Clouds and was supervised by Leo Blitz.

Career

Imara was the inaugural postdoctoral fellow (2014 – 2017) on the Future Faculty Leaders program at Harvard University. In 2017, she was appointed as the John Harvard Distinguished Science Fellow and the Harvard FAS Dean’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Imara works with the Banneker Institute at Harvard, and is a member of the Breakthrough Starshot research team. She has developed a model that connects galaxy mass, star formation rates, and dust temperatures.

Together with Roseanne Di Stefano, Imara has proposed a method for detecting exoplanets in X-ray binary star systems.

Art and activism

Imara is also an artist whose primary medium is oil on canvas. In 2014, she opened her own gallery, First Love.

In 2015 she held a series of exhibitions in Oakland called Generation of Oakland: The People’s Portrait, looking at the impact of gentrification on Oakland resident’s families. From 2016 to 2019, these interviews with and photographs of the people affected by gentrification were online at GenerationOfOakland.com.

Imara is an advocate for equity in STEM. She founded the Equity and Inclusion Journal Club at Harvard University in 2018 which was originally co-organized with Dr. Anna Pancoast. She has visited South Africa and Ghana to teach and advocate in programs designed to increase diversity in astronomy and other STEM areas.

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